Like many people, when I realized that the season of Lent was coming, I thought to myself… “Do we have to this year? Haven’t we been doing Lent for the most part for two years now?” I am fairly certain that it was almost exactly two years ago when the world shut down; when we thought we would be done in two weeks with this “Corona Virus”. Then, the weeks stretched on turning into months… and here we are two years later, finally maybe feeling some sense of hope that perhaps life can be more normal, whatever that means. The cost of the last two years is beyond our ability to calculate or imagine. So much death and darkness, so much isolation, lost wages, a country divided over the definition of freedom; corporate sins like racism and keeping people poor are alive and well; fear is guiding more of our decisions as we try to make ourselves safer, richer, smarter, happier; and now a land war in Europe that threatens the lives of so many… so it seems as though Lent with it’s possibility of giving up something that brings us comfort is just one more thing that we don’t want to have to fool with.
And I get it. I never “give up” coffee or caffeine in Lent, because quite frankly, no one wants to watch that unfold. And really, if we approach Lent as the “Great test of willpower” we are missing the point. So, what are we supposed to be about these next weeks as we get closer to Holy Week and Easter?
I opened up my email last week, and in bold letters there was an email that asked, in it’s subject line, in bold letters, “WHOSE ARE YOU?” It startled me a little bit. I realized it was an advertisement for a new book from a Catholic publishing house, and I thought the subject line was well done. It certainly got my attention. So much so that I left the email there so that I could see it every so often and think about what the answer to the question might be. As I began to think about this season of Lent, I thought that question was a good one to begin meditating on.
Whose are you? As we think about this question, there might be many answers that make their way into our thoughts. I belong to many people, in a sense. I am a priest, a wife, a mother, a friend; I am owned by 3 cats and a dog; and all of that is important, and it is part of who I am, but honestly, it doesn’t answer the question, “Whose are you”. Maybe the answer to the question lies in our gospel lesson today.
We are all familiar with the story of Jesus being led out into the wilderness. It’s important to note that Jesus is led by the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings Jesus into this time of temptation. I think there’s a message in there for each of us as well; when we are baptized, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and maybe that should make us a little afraid; being led into a physical and spiritual wilderness by the very Holy Spirit that is supposed to sustain us and form us sounds a little suspect. But Jesus is led into the wilderness and made to face life altering temptations. And even though he is tired, hungry, lonely, and who knows what else… he succeeds in resisting temptation. The kind of temptation that would bring most of us to our knees because everything had been stripped away. Most of us would be grasping at anything to make the pain and the discomfort of that time go away. What does Jesus do? He says WOrship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Jesus knows that no matter what the devil tempts him with, that there is only one thing that matters; that Jesus the Son belongs to God the Father. It is only God that can fill him up and give him what he needs when everything has been stripped away. As Jesus belongs to the Father, we belong to Jesus. In this showdown with the devil, Jesus has won, and in his winning, we also win. We do not have to answer the call of sin that would have us turn away from God. We can say with confidence that we are God’s beloved people; when we are asked the question, “whose are you” we know to whom we belong. We belong to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who can help us live into our calling to be God’s beloved.
So, what does this have to do with Lent? I’m glad you asked. I think the reason the question “Whose are you” struck me as so important, is because I think the disciplines, prayers, and practices that we choose during this season, help us to answer that question, or at least maybe they should. “Giving up” or even “Taking on” something for this holy season is not about me and it’s not about you; it’s not a feat of strength or will power. Whatever we do or stop doing ought to help us to get closer to God; it ought to be a way to strip away our selfishness, our greed, our fear, so that what’s left is someone who realizes that they are fully and totally dependent upon God. This is a time for us to remember that nothing, absolutely nothing can take the place of God in our lives; that all of those things that cause us to sin are only temptations to acquire the things of the world that only seek to harm us and others. And it often starts out innocently enough right? We hunger for something to help us to feel better about ourselves and each other and so those “little lies” of “oh this won’t hurt anything” only seek to drive us further away from Jesus and those whom we love and care about; and drive us further away from those that Jesus loves and cares about.
Most of us don’t do our Lenten disciplines perfectly well. If you did yours perfectly well last year, then you need to be challenged and try something different! It’s not a test. There are no rewards, except for the beauty and joy of relationship with Jesus who has already resisted temptation for us. As we move through these weeks, I challenge all of us to continually answer the question, “Whose are you?”. I hope the question takes us by surprise and helps us to peel away those things that we have put before God. It is only when we do away with our false idols that we realize to whom we belong, and who we really are. Whose are you… you are God’s own beloved.