Please join us throughout the season as we reflect on how “Walking in Solidarity.”
On the First Sunday of Lent we hear the fascinating Gospel of Jesus’ forty days in the desert.
That event, of course, was the first Lenten Season in our Christian/Catholic Tradition.Its background is equally fascinating.
Jesus has come down from his hometown in Galilee to observe this dynamic preacher, John the Baptist. Standing in the middle of a crowd, Jesus hears himself singled out by the Baptist as “the Lamb of God”.
For John and Jesus this description harkens back in their Jewish minds seven centuries, to the Prophet Isaiah who predicted that their awaited Messiah would be “pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins… like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers…” (Is.53:5,7). John is telling the people that this carpenter from Nazareth is he of whom the Prophet spoke.
According to one great Scripture scholar, this statement by the man of God, John the Baptist, is a stunning revelation for Jesus – in human terms. He is being told what his vocation will be: the Savior who will take on himself the sins of his people and of all peoples. And he will do this by undergoing enormous suffering, like that of a lamb led to the slaughter.
So quite appropriately Jesus flees to the desert, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to think and pray about this stark prospect while fasting there for forty days. Again, in human terms, as a young man discovering God’s will for him, there would be no other logical course of action for Jesus but to pull away and reflect seriously on the consequences of what John had said of him.
Naturally, too, such a time of reflection and prayerful fasting on such an overwhelming prospect would subject Jesus to the temptation to turn aside, reject this vocation, shrink from the consequences of Isaiah’s prophecy. And so it is. Jesus is tempted, really tempted to take another pathway in life. In fact his temptation is threefold: to sensuality “turn this stone into bread”; wealth “all these kingdoms I will give you”; and power “throw yourself from the pinnacle of the temple” (Luke 4)
As mentioned, this episode early in Jesus adult life is fascinating; and I believe it is real, not imagined. He is after all human like the rest of us. He is presented with an overwhelming Divine call – that of God’s Suffering Servant. And he has to go away to think about that. Quite naturally his reflections will bring on the temptation to reject God’s call – it does for all of us.
Therefore, can we not find something akin to this in our own experiences? We have a similar call in our Baptism. We have received the vocation to be Christlike in our time and place in history. While ours most likely will not signify bodily suffering, we are incorporated into His mission of salvation – called to be a sign of hope for hopeless people of our time.
Such a vocation here in the United States in the second decade of the 21st Century is formidable, even frightening. Our country is much in need of salvation based on God’s forgiveness. Our national situation as a “culture of death” (John Paul II) surely compels us at least once each year to take stock of how we are doing as followers of Jesus here and now.
In other words we, like Jesus, have to retire, quiet down, pray and fast so as to assess our faithfulness to this baptismal calling. That is Lent – forty days of reflection and penance. Living Lent in this way, I believe, is an act of solidarity with the Lord and with those to whom He came to preach the Good News: the poor, neglected, ostracized, marginalized, abandoned.
We may be sure that temptations to pull back from this baptismal commitment will confront us. Our culture guarantees it. We’ll be told that penance should be easy on us; that we can continue to “enjoy” life in this affluent nation as usual; that really nothing has to change for us in these forty days. Sensuality, wealth and power will still entice us.
But in all honesty, Lent is the season of repentance, reflection, reconciliation. It is not easy and it goes on and on for fully six weeks. It did for Jesus – it should for us.
Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM, is the former executive director and former board secretary/treasurer of Franciscan Mission Service. A member of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, he currently ministers to the Hispanic community at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Arlington, VA. He has lived at the Assisi Community, an intentional community in inner city Washington, DC, for the past twenty-two years.