17 Feb 2013
“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forth days …” (Luke 4:1-2a) In the name …
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. We have just begun our 40 day journey that culminates in the death and burial of Jesus Christ. This is a mystery so profound that even though we return to it year after year it should still raise questions in our mind and spirit, and it should still make us marvel at the meaning and the mystery of a crucified God. I use that phrase of “crucified God” intentionally during Lent and I take it from the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who wrote a book under that title. Its purpose is to impress upon us that in Jesus God Himself suffers the torment of crucifixion. God Himself is altered by that horrid event. And the question that inspires me every single Lenten season is “why?”.
At Christmas we have no difficulty in proclaiming the joyous news that Jesus is God incarnate, that Jesus brings God Himself into our world. But during Lent we seem to grow a lot more hesitant. We have more difficulty in speaking about a crucified God. But if the Jesus of Christmas is the same Jesus of Good Friday, and He is, then what else can we call Him other than the “crucified God”? And that’s one of the themes that I’m going to be talking about when I have my turn at the Lenten Discussion on March 20th, but that’s something also that each of us can meditate upon over these 40 days. Why, not only did Jesus suffer the cross, why did God? What is its purpose, its meaning?
Lent is not routine. No matter how many years we have been going to Lenten Masses and Devotions, fasting on Fridays and maybe Wednesdays too, sacrificing some personal pleasure or adding some pious practice to our daily schedules, no matter how many times we do these things, they are not routine. They somehow connect us in a more personal way with our crucified God. For remember the few resurrection stories that we have left to us, the body of the resurrected Jesus is still scarred by the wounds of the cross. Even the Jesus to whom we now pray, the Jesus who will be among us during this Mass, remains the crucified God. The crucifixion is not history. It’s mystery. It’s part of the very nature of our Saviour then and now. This is why Lent is not routine. This is why I urge you to take advantage of these 40 days and to treat them differently. Jesus always has something to say to us, to reveal to us.
See if there is something new in that conversation because that’s kind of what Jesus went through during His 40 days. I trust in the biblical message of Jesus’ temptation, but I doubt the particulars of it. Mark is the first Gospel and he leaves unexplained the details of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. But even in his brief description there is a profound discrepancy between his words and what will follow in later Gospels. Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness. There is an implication of disarray and confusion in that word. Jesus has had this astounding revelation of His divine Sonship and it almost seems like He’s battling with Himself over with what this means, and He’s forced into the wilderness to figure it out. Luke comes along a decade or more later and tames down this story. He doesn’t like the idea of an agitated Jesus. Now the Spirit more gently leads Jesus out into the desert where He is there first tempted, then upon a mountaintop, and finally upon a pinnacle of the Temple.
Luke likes these physical images; they make things more real for him. Two weeks ago we spoke about an actual, physical dove descending upon Jesus at His baptism, and now we have Jesus flying through the air from desert to mountain to city height. This I believe is Luke’s attempt to capture the turmoil that Jesus was going through in His own conscience as He battled over what it meant to be God’s Son and what it meant to be our Saviour. I trust the message; I doubt the details. Anyone who thinks this was a gentle transformation isn’t giving Jesus’ full human nature its credit. The 40 days were a severe spiritual, mental and psychological test for Jesus. What was this new and different revelation? Jesus was no longer just the carpenter’s son. Now He was beginning to recognize Himself as even God’s Son. This is why when Jesus comes back out of the desert He is prepared to begin His public ministry. He now knows better who He is and what He must do. And this is our model of Lent’s 40 days. And it is anything but routine.
In today’s Lesson we heard Paul refer to the Old Testament text that “the word is near you.” And the word, the message, is not complicated. It is “Jesus is Lord.” (Rom. 10:9) This is what Paul means by near; it is not hidden or complex, but it is also not routine. I can, for example, be sitting and watching the same basketball game as someone else, but if they really know the sport, then they are seeing things taking place on the court that I’m oblivious to – and we’re watching the same thing. It’s the same with anything else. It can be cars, music, politics, your health – or even our faith. If we have a keen interest in something, we are able to see it more astutely than someone with only a casual interest. Something can be near, but not necessarily noticed. Lent is our sacred opportunity to take better notice of Christ, the Christ who is always near, but not always seen. Lent is our chance to delve into the mystery of why a crucified God. These 40 days may ask more of us and our faith than usual, but hopefully like Jesus we will come out at the other end renewed and excited about who we are and what we can do for God. And may this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo