I read the lectionary. The Gospel lessons. Mark’s words.
And I laughed. I’m a bad boy. I shouldn’t be laughing on the first Sunday of the most serious churchy season of the year. “Be strong, Larry,” I mutter aloud. Hold the chuckles. Resist the mirth. Lose the smile.
Lent is preparation for Easter, after all. Yes, at the end of a six-pack of Sundays, there’s the glory and story of the resurrection. But first, there will be Lent’s traditional forty days of sacrifice, penitence, and reflection.
It’s the first Sunday of Lent and I read some of the opening verses of the first chapter of Mark. I’m doing okay until Mark 1:12 (NRSV). It’s immediately following Jesus’ baptism. Good ole John still stood in the Jordan, dripping wet with a befuddled what-have-I-done look on his gaunt face. In less than a handful of verses after Mark 1:12 (starting at your thumb, you wouldn’t make it to your pinkie on the finger count), Jesus met the future first Pope, along with his brother Andrew, and (it can be argued) the start of the Christian church commenced. Continue reading →
“Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him . . .” (Matthew 4:1)
Do I believe there is a Satan (or “devil”)?
Do I believe there is evil?
How do I understand Jesus’ encounter with “the tempter” in the fourth chapter of Matthew? There, after forty days and nights in the wilderness—where Jesus fasted and prayed, and inevitably was “starving”—the devil appeared and tempted him. Like God and Satan testing Job or Dante’s Divine Comedy depicting a journey through the nine circles of Hell, I don’t read it as an actual, factual event.
And yet I believe Jesus’ devilish confrontation revealed a truth—as the best stories do—and that every verse and, in particular, each of the three temptations, were very, very real.
They were for Jesus.
They are for you.
They are for me.
Do I hunger to serve the word and way of God? Or do I just want my belly full? What hunger tempts me? Sex? Money? Property?
Is my relationship with the Holy (and fellow humans) defined by manipulation, by bargaining, by comparing, by “testing” God?
Psalm 91 – The First Sunday of Lent* – for Sunday, February 14, 2016
“. . . to protect you wherever you go . . .” (Psalm 91:11)
Frightened refugees spread across the world from the hell on earth known as Syria. Soldiers tramp through the hardscrabble, isolated villages of Afghanistan, armed to kill—and perhaps to be killed—7,500 miles from home. Citizens in Flint, Michigan are informed their water is contaminated with lead, but only long after bathing in it, brushing teeth with it, tending a garden using it, and, from infant to elderly, swallowing it. A husband and wife in San Bernardino (who look so blandly normal in the before pictures) walk into a building with legal guns and store-bought bullets. Another child, maybe six years old, maybe with a goofy grin that will break even the sternest of hearts, with an illness that is relentless and opportunistic, enters the care of the hospice where I work and dies ten days later.
Who will protect the innocent when bullets fly, when cancer spreads? Don’t the most fragile and gentle deserve protection?
Who will protect the guilty, even as they scheme to bully or steal or kill? Don’t even the worst of us, raised on hate or seduced by fear, deserve a second or third or fourth chance to lead hopeful lives? Continue reading →