Sunday, February 26, 2012

The First Sunday of Lent

It is the case that, in literature and pop culture, many of our heroes must go off "into the desert" before embracing their destiny as the hero. In the latest re-boot of the Batman franchise, Bruce Wayne wanders the earth, unsure of who he is, before he discovers within him the Batman. Even when he has embraced his identity, his retreat, or inner sanctum, is a cave underneath his stately manor. Superman has his own "Fortress of Solitude" where is communes with his father, Jor-El.  In Disney's "The Lion King" does not Simba go off into the desert for many years following the death of Mufasa?

The role of the hero is never simple and linear. The heroic path is seldom clear, for many are the inner depths in need of plumbing. The hustle-and-bustle of daily life so easily distract, tear at, and get in the way of this exploration that it is almost inevitable that the hero, to claim the mantle of hero, must seek solitude. Every hero must, at some point, go into the desert.

Today's Gospel, taken from Mark, recounts Jesus' trip into the desert. This is a sparse portrayal, fitting given that Mark's Gospel is the earliest written, and lacks the literary finesse of Matthew and Luke's account. The Gospel unfolds in two moments:

  1. Jesus is driven by the spirit out into the desert where he was tempted by Satan.
  2. After forty days, he returns to Galilee and proclaims the Good News: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
The forty days in the desert were not an endurance contest to see how long Jesus could hold out, nor were they a way of demonstrating in a public way his sanctity. Jesus journeyed into the desert and there found what was central and essential in his life: God. Stripped away of all comforts and amenities, alone with the God whose love he felt stirring within his heart, Jesus went out into the desert in order to find what was most necessary. 

The great modern temptation of Lent is to make it into some form of religious endurance contest. By no means am I against challenging oneself or one's habits, but I think that the focus can easily become on what I am giving up rather than on what I am removing in order to come to know Jesus better. As I mentioned yesterday, I think we do an awfully good job at hoarding in our lives and our annual sojourn in the Lenten desert demands that we refocus our lives one the One who is most central: Jesus Christ, who models for us what it means to make the Kingdom of God one's center...and shows, in a sinful and broken world, the calamitous consequences of taking the Gospel to heart. 

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