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Back The First Sunday of Lent
Friday, February 28, 2020
It is my observation that more than ever before we are living in a culture, filled with distractions. I find it fascinating to see a young couple at a fine restaurant sitting across from each other each with heads bowed, as their attention is glued to their phones. When gathered together for a meeting the proceedings are often disrupted by a variety of electronic signals of a new text message, a new post, a new email arriving for people in the crowd. Even while gathered for worship, God’s message isn’t the only one we hear.
What happens when we shut all our electronic media down? What happens when we sit alone with ourselves in silence? This is the experience that Jesus has as he escaped into the desert. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recall that after the Baptism of Jesus, he withdraws to the desert to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights. The event of the baptism by John brings with it a declaration from God; sometimes directed to Jesus Himself, sometimes to those in attendance. The message is the same. Jesus is uniquely God’s Son in whom the Father is well pleased. Searching the meaning of this revelation is most likely at the heart of Jesus’ forty day retreat.
It is in the hunger of that desert searching that Jesus is tempted within the deepest recesses of His spirit. He could capitalize on His heavenly designation for His own immediate satisfaction. He could foolishly test His own security with God. Finally, He could surrender to the desire for power over people by His advanced status with the Father. Jesus passes the test and thus is prepared to begin His public ministry.
We begin our Lenten season each year with this story of Jesus. Each Lenten season, we too enter into a period of about forty days and forty nights. By certain acts of self-denial, we endeavor to build up spiritual strength and endurance. By certain acts of charity and works of justice as well as advocacy, we endeavor to imitate Jesus more directly within our lives. It is amazing to me, that if I set out and properly intend certain Lenten practices, temptations to fail become more apparent. I can go almost an entire day with little food because of my booked schedule and yet when I consciously will to fast my hunger it becomes a day of long distraction. When I wish to spend more time in the discipline of daily silent prayer, it appears that my media resources compete more strongly for my attention.
As we begin Holy Lent, let us set reasonable goals for increased acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Unlike Jesus, we may falter a bit but should not be discouraged. We will need to learn from our stumbling and renewed our dedication to these acts of self-discipline and opportunities for spiritual growth. Let us invite Jesus to walk with us throughout our Lenten journey. Let us learn from His compassion and focused attention to the needs of others. May our Lenten practices assist us to die with Him so as to rise with Him to the resurrected glory.