Monday, 16 March 2009

Some Thoughts on Lent

By the Revd Ron Keynes

For many years now, I have tended to wander from the traditional view and expression of the Season of Lent, on the grounds – dare I say it? – that tradition seems to have missed the real point. This Season of preparation for Easter is designed to follow the life and experience of Jesus following His baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Of course, what followed that baptism closely, was Jesus’ six weeks in the wilderness, a sort of parallel to the experience of Israel during the Exodus. Such isolation can often heighten one’s thoughts and perceptions. (Isn’t that why people go bush for a while?)
Those tales of Jesus’ temptations (which I prefer to describe as testings) never seemed to make a lot of sense to me, even as a young person. Stones into bread, and all that! If you look at it literally, is no great thing even if Jesus was starving. If He did alter those stones, what difference would it make really? And how does such a thing constitute temptation? One has to resort to holy talk to get past that one. However, if you understand the story ‘Jewishly,’ then a whole new world opens up. This calls for the exercise of your imagination – Biblical imagination. Here is an attempt to present a pictorial perception of facing enormous challenges.

You see, what was happening in those significant six weeks, was for Jesus to ponder the huge question: if He were ‘Son of God’ how was He meant to operate; how does such a one gather a following of people who would understand and become lifelong disciples? It was a powerful question of the nature or pattern of leadership He was meant to follow. If we look at those ‘temptations’ one by one, I hope you will understand what I mean. On top of that, Jesus would have had that marvellous series of Servant Songs from Isaiah (ii) to ponder …… as should we all.

Stones into bread. If you equate what was going on there with, say, patterns of leadership – and making progress – in the human world, you will catch sight perhaps even suddenly. Living as He did in the Roman Empire, our Lord would have understood the Roman method of leadership. ‘Bread and circuses’ was that old theme, followed by so many later politicians and despots as well. Divert people from the real issues! Fill their gut and ignore their spirit! And get on with your control of people while they are distracted!!! That was the challenge for Jesus, and it must not have taken long before He saw the devastating nature of the challenge. Follow the Roman way, and actually bribe or even force people into discipleship. Mind you, the greater challenge was when one realizes that to reject that path was only to choose a rather harder, more demanding path towards gaining disciples. People would have to think first, before deciding whether or not to commit! And you would have to be aware of the vast difficulty of getting people to think, let alone getting any further along the path than that. Do you catch sight now?

Jumping from the Temple pinnacle. When I was writing this, the media had been full of stories of the Tour Down Under and its noted overseas competitor. Or of that late movie star who is garnering all manner of posthumous attention. (Lot of good it will do the poor bloke!) Why is it that people almost long to ape their superstars? How unreal can you get????

If Jesus were to pursue this pattern of surprising, stunning, inveigling people by all the stunning things He could do, surely people would follow in drives, wouldn’t they? Just look at the rapt attention people seem to give to movie stars and royals, and sportspeople. What a way to go! But if Jesus took that path to gain a following, a moment’s thought is all it takes to recognize how shallow and self-seeking such a following would be. Jump from the pinnacle, Lord, and we will ask to try something harder. Something more demanding. And if He did, would anyone believe really, anyone repent and change direction? There is only a snowflake’s chance in Hell, is there not?

What few people stop to notice is, that from here on Jesus refused to use miracle as a means to gain people’s following and loyalty. As John has it in his Gospel, there were no miracles; there were only signs, pointers, something to ponder and think about. And we miss the point if we make any more of them.

Fall down and worship Satan. What in the name of fortune does it mean to ‘worship Satan?’ Who the @#$% is Satan anyhow? Come on a journey, but wear your seat belt for a moment. There is a lot of argy-bargy around in some circles when the great deceiver rates a mention. Go back through Scripture and see, when you boil it all down, ‘Satan’ is the Biblical expression for the source of evil and untruth. Satan, pardon me, when you reduce it to reality, is your capacity and mine to behave and live like ‘Adam’ who – as the story had it – dethroned the real God and set himself up as substitute. Or, to put it another way, who tempts you – and be honest. So don’t go looking for something outside of you, except when it comes to others’ capacity for evil.

This challenge to Jesus, who was tested and tempted the same way you are, was to water down the truth, spin, fiddle, or most of all, turn the truth into a lie and the lie into the truth. What am I talking about? Watch the politicians, or better still, watch yourself. Fiddles, lies, half-truths, mistruths, spin, or even that great Australian word of two syllables. (You know that word I mean!) Look and see the extent to which this terribly human characteristic makes such total mess of relationships, personal, social, national and international. Truth unadorned is the only path to wholeness, to what the Scriptures call salvation. Wholeness. And for Jesus to have chosen that path would have been to have emasculated and destroyed the entire Gospel. I kid you not. So thank heaven you have a Lord Who recognized the real issues and turned His back on them.

One final shock to the system: that challenge for Jesus, which continued right through His ministry, is the same challenge that faces all His priests and bishops (some of whom tend to ignore or avoid the realities) but it does not end there. This same challenge falls on us all, people of God. Like our Lord, we need to be aware of our calling. And that make take a little hard work.

So when I say that I am no traditionalist when it come to Lent, I mean I see no call for breast-beating and going without. I see only the annual reminder to get back to the basics of faithfulness and commitment in the face of whatever contrary pressure.

As someone else often says, you know it makes sense!

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