I would like begin this evening by rereading the Gospel for you. As you noticed, it is rather short and also a pretty familiar, even expected story for the beginning of Lent. That makes it a prime candidate for us not to listen and that’s not a good way to start Lent. But this Gospel also reminds me of the yada, yada, yada, Seinfeld episode that comments on our tendency to skim over the details. For example, in one scene, George is driving with this woman and she says, “So, I’m on 3rd avenue, minding my own business, and yada yada yada, I got a free massage and a facial.” So, if this Gospel was used in the context of Seinfeld, this is how it would sound:
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. [and yada yada yada,] After John had been arrested, [yada, yada, yada] Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:12-15).
To me, it seems that Mark provides us with a yada, yada, yada version of these very familiar stories of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and John’s execution. It doesn’t seem to do justice to this time in Jesus’ life because just a few verses before this passage, Jesus is baptized by John and a voice breaks through the heavens saying “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
I think this express version of the Gospel that Mark provides, aims at the ideal baptismal impulse. Yes, Jesus took 40 days in the desert to ponder this message, but what is more important is that he came forth from those 40 days convinced of his message and fearless in his desire to live and share it. One of the theme’s we have heard through the course of the last seven weeks of ordinary time has been that of boundaries, in particular how Jesus expanded and broke through boundaries. Lent is our time to return to our baptismal vows and evaluate where they may be limited by boundaries we have imposed. Hopefully, forty days from now, we will be able to recite those vows again at the Easter Vigil and find ourselves less bound by sin and more led by God’s grace. More open to growth.
But, what is our inspiration to live up to these promises? On Ash Wednesday I talked about how the cross of ashes is a motivator by reminding us of both death and love: Our mortality and God’s embrace and transformation of it through Jesus. Today, let me motivate you more by the love aspect. God wants us to believe the following: “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” In fact, I would like to share with you a conversation between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to prove it.
God the Father called Jesus over and said, ‘Jesus, I need you to do something. See I made this whole universe, the stars and the planets, the earth and humans and yada, yada, yada, I want you to redeem them from sin by sharing our love with them.’ Jesus, always attentive to his Father’s will said ‘sure, thy will be done.’
Then God the Father said, ‘hey, veni sancte spiritus.’ and the Holy Spirit came over. God the Father said, ‘Holy Spirit, first off, thanks for your help with Mary, as you know, I sent Jesus and yada, yada, yada, he conquered death and saved all my children. Will you go guide them now?’ And the Holy Spirit said ‘how can this be?’ And God the Father answered, ‘You know, the scriptures, the saints, the Church, yada yada yada, O just show them that we love them and we’re with them always.’ With a swift breeze, off went the Holy Spirit.
A short while later, the Holy Spirit returned to God the Father and said, ‘I inspired the scriptures, and the Church and some saints, and yada yada yada, they still don’t believe we love them.’ To this, God the Father paused un-phased and replied, ‘we create them; we save them; we guide them; we love them;’ And we always will.’
This story is a summary of salvation history and I think it poses a problem of complacency for us because if God loves us no matter what, then what is the rush to change our lives? Shouldn’t our participation in God’s love be required? Participation is key, but first we need to accept that God loves us and always will. That makes us feel very unworthy. It makes us feel in debt. Lent is a time to let go of the unworthy feelings and to step back into a balanced relationship with God. Lent is an invitation to believe the effects of our baptism that made us children of God. Then the love we have for God will be shared with our neighbors.
God has gone to great lengths to say I love you. We can count on this from God, but these great lengths are not the substance of our belief and our love. God alone needs to be the substance of our belief and our love. Lent is the reminder that even if you haven’t acknowledged it in the past year, God still loves you. God believes in you. And you don’t need to go back and count the ways and the times of God’s love, to start anew this day. Ultimately our answer when we stand before the gates of heaven needs to be “God I believed in you and I loved you and yada yada yada.” May this Lent be the Lent we always remember the love of our God. Blessed be God forever.
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day most people are eager to not wash their face and instead bear on their forehead a black cross. At first glance this practice is directly contradictory to what we hear in the Gospel at Mass this very day. In the sixth chapter of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father” (Matthew 6:1). Don’t give money to charity and then make a commercial saying you gave money to charity. Don’t stand out in front of everyone and pray loudly making a scene so people will think you are holy. And finally, don’t dress all drab and decide not to shower or brush your hair when you fast so everyone will see how much you are suffering. At first glance, this little cross seems like a very loud contradiction.
The truth is that there are not many things that will get us to change our minds, never mind our hearts. In fact I will come out and say that I don’t even understand my own heart a lot of the time and I suspect you don’t as well. So, boasting about my charity, bible thumping and dressing to reflect my mood are not going to make much of a difference when it comes to change. In fact, these actions just reinforce our same old thoughts and same old behaviors.
So, what can convince us to change? I think there are two things strong enough to do that and they are what these ashes represent. Death and Love. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yes, we are mortal. Our technology is doing everything it can to hide and to change that fact, but we are bound to die. And even as I say this, I know how little impact it has on my own life and on yours. We have learnt really well to keep the secret. But anyone who has faced death and lived will testify to how convincing it can be to inspire change. So we wear ashes, with the hope that maybe having a black smug on our forehead might remind us when we look in the mirror that we are mortal.
The second powerful motivator is love. That is why we wear our ashes in the shape of a cross. That cross reminds us that even Jesus died. Jesus, our God, suffered death on a cross, specifically to say to us that he has been there. And Jesus faced death and didn’t have anything about him to change, so he changed death. He rose from death at the resurrection and he gives that gift to us.
Our Church loves sacraments because they bring the grace of God in a real and physical way into our presence. This imposition of ashes follows the same formula. It is a physical reminder that death is real and that death is transformed and for both reasons we should be transformed. Our hearts and our minds want this change. Our hearts and our minds want a home that gives rest. That is what God provides if we want to take time to be still and know who he is. Let’s take time this Ash Wednesday to reflect in a mirror on these ashes. And to remember that we are mortal and we are loved and that God embraced both of these things in Jesus. Blessed be God forever.
Where is home for you? The other day one student said to another that she was going home. This was followed by some confusion because ‘home’ in the other students perception was several hours away and not a practical venture in the middle of the week. One student was referring to the place she lived, the other the place where she came from, where her family was.
In today’s Gospel, St. Mark tells us that “Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, [and] it became known that he was at home” (Mark 2:1). I’ve never really thought of Jesus as having a home. Sure we know of Nazareth and Bethlehem, but don’t you get the impression that Jesus is on the road a lot? It almost sounds like Jesus’ return to Capernaum is a chance for him to have the equivalent of a semester break and he decided to return home.
Home is a very important thing for us as relational human beings. There is something special about home and that can be for a number of good and bad reasons. Home certainly is a perception before it is a physical place. I think conventionally speaking, good feelings abound at home. That is why we can find it whether we are at school, on vacation, doing a service trip, or visiting family.
Home at its best is a sacred space. We want to be protective of it and share it with caution. When we consider our relationship with Jesus, we need to see how he opened his home to everyone. They even made an opening in his roof to lower a paralytic man to Jesus. And when considering the body as the home of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave his life to heal our sins.
God’s asking us to expand our notion of home this weekend. Who do we extend our hospitality to and why do we choose them? When we recognize someone who is homeless, figuratively or literally, what is our response to them? May the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the home of our hearts grant us courage as our perceived notion of home is expanded. Blessed be God forever.
Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22; 24-25 Psalm 41; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12