The readings for Sunday, February 26, 2012
First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-9 (Psalm 25:1-10 NRSV)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
In today’s Gospel, we see Christ going through the stages of the life of a Christian, in a sort of fast-forward filmstrip: baptism, wilderness/desert time of desolation and doubt, temptation, death of mentors, carrying on with life’s work anyway. Why should we, thousands of years later, think that life will be any different for us?
Think about the sacrament of Baptism. We do not get the water and the word because we’ve proven ourselves. As Lutherans, many of us get the water and the word when we’re babies. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, too, is just a baby of sorts. God proclaims love for Jesus even before Jesus has done anything substantial. God is pleased with Jesus before his ministry even begins.
Many of us struggle with the concept of grace. I spend a lot of time trying to explain to non-believers how it is possible for so many Christians to be so hypocritical. My answer: “Because we’re human, and we can’t always behave in the best way possible.” That answer doesn’t usually satisfy my human interrogators. How lucky we are that God is not so judgmental. God knows we will fail, but God loves us anyway. God knows we cannot ever be good enough, but God doesn’t use that concept as a battering ram to promote more self-loathing. No, God loves us, even though we don’t deserve it.
Even with the gift of God’s grace, life will not be perfect for us. Jesus shows us that there will be wilderness times in every life. If the Son of God isn't exempt, why should we expect that we will be? Mark tells us that Jesus was driven into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan and the angels ministered to him.
Notice Mark's spare storytelling style. It will be up to later Gospel writers to tell us the nature of the temptations. Mark seems to say that the temptation in its particulars is not important. Satan tempts Jesus. We will be tempted. And many of us will be so out of touch, we won't even realize we're being tempted. We're so good at rationalizing that we won't even realize that Satan has been successful with us. In her book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, Lauren F. Winner reminds us, "This is how sin works: it whispers to us about the goodness of something not good. It makes distortions feel good" (89).
Look at the end of the Gospel lesson: John the Baptist has been arrested. We can't say we haven't been warned about what might happen to us when we do God's work in the world.
But we're not excused from doing it. The Gospel ends with Jesus continuing his mission, preaching the gospel of God.
Lent is a time of spiritual conditioning. Some people fast or give up a favorite food or beverage. Some people add a spiritual discipline, like another period of prayer or additional Bible reading. Some people try to limit the activities, like Internet meandering or gossip, that take them further away from God. Lent is a season that can fortify us to for the Christian life, so that we’re ready for wilderness times and persecution and the work that must be done anyway.
feeling the feelings…
10 months ago