Thursday, February 4, 2010
First Sunday in Lent - Matt 4 1-11 - Feb 21, 2010
I first heard the story of Jesus and his fasting for forty days from the nuns in my grade school. It is a hard idea to teach. I never went to bed hungry. But the concept of not eating on purpose and called it fasting is something as a child I accepted without question.
As I grew older the idea of fasting for forty days seems to defy logic or credibility. If you look at a lot of biblical stories, they are presented to reinforce other stories in the bible. The number forty has to do with forty years the Israelites under Moses wandered in the desert. It rained for forty days and nights on Noah's immense boat.
It took me some years to realize that the season of Lent talks about forty days of fasting and sacrifice but the season discounts and does not count Sundays. Does that mean I can have a banana split on Sunday in between the fasting thing?
Many things in the Bible may or may not have happened exactly as they say. But no doubt and assuredly they really did happen.
I have to look at a dedicated man named Jesus who is trying to purge himself of all the things of this world, to purge them out of his mind. We do not know what went on in his mind in the middle of a very long and lonely separation from the world in the desert.
There is a modern popular horoscope guy in the newspapers and Internet who does a weekly column. He advocates that we take an occasional fast from the media. He is in essence saying, one day a week turn off the television, turn off the radio. Turn off the computer and Internet and the iPod. He says to tune into yourself. Is this so original or novel as idea? No.
Moses when he wanted to change his family, the blood of Abraham, turn them away from the very sophisticated culture of the Egyptians, he had them wander around the desert for forty years to get reacquainted with living in harsh desert conditions, surviving and prospering and becoming once again what they lost while living for centuries in Egypt. They lost the ability to be of themselves and dependent on themselves. It was a return to nature so to speak. It was a return to simpler less complicated days. It was a way of life where the individual on an individual level focused one on one with God and nature.
To do that, Moses ordered or created the Sabbath as a holy day in compliance for a holy day in the Ten Commandments. This is a day to shut out the outside world and to focus only on yourself and your immediate family and on reflection of God and his word. This is a day when you can or should turn off and turn away from the secular world. That one day a week is supposed to be for our spiritual side and in recognition of the Creator. This is a day to recharge our spiritual batteries.
That day of rest is to imitate the day of rest God took after he created everything in six days, is sadly not afforded to many of us in this mad 24/7 modern world. When do you fit in time for yourself or your family? Is a workout at the gym a good withdraw from the world? Is going to the PTA meeting or transporting the kids to soccer practice or ballet a plus or a negative? I cannot answer that. Only you can. The expression goes something like having " quality time" with your loved ones. Think about it.
Jesus who decided he had a destiny to fulfill, a destiny perhaps thrust upon him by the living God. He had to made an adjustment. He had to decide if he wanted to willingly choose that destiny, if he was worthy, if he was ready, and strong enough. He had to start somewhere. He had to fast and pray for a very long time, perhaps even forty days or longer.
In all that pain and suffering and withdraw from the world, he as a human no doubt played those video tapes of things in his life, played those tapes over and over again, things that he was giving up for his ministry to the poor and the ignorant of this world. He went into the desert one sort of man and came out another. He accepted his destiny, harsh as living that destiny would have to be. He, as the Muslims would say, submitted totally to the will of God. God's plan for the world was now his plan as well. No going back. Only forward.
And no doubt, because sometimes fasting gives you a chemical high off your body chemistry kicking in to offset starvation, no doubt he was temped to believe that he was great and powerful and that he could use his vision and his powers solely for himself. But no, this he did not do. If there is one thing that rings true in the gospels is the love and commitment that Jesus had to humanity - the other children of God. Us.
The modern world of Goldman Sachs, Wall Street bankers and Ivy League Harvard educated men and women do not add up in their tens of thousands to the one real man, the mensch, the one and only Jesus of Nazareth!
When they put the gospels together, there may have been some lost passages. What they perhaps left out of some of the gospels, these gospel writers, are the letters, numbers or words of the equation of man, of men as equal to one another and fully worthy of sharing in the those fruits of labor and wealth of this planet equally. The spirit of the message of Jesus comes through by recognizing man and humanity as a critical part of any political, economic or religious equations - then and now.
The world that Jesus envisioned may not be here in this world. It most surely is in the next where the things of this world are totally discounted. A rich man cannot get through the eye of a needle and it is that difficult for any greedy fools to try to carry their gold and cash off this spec of dust of this planet into a vast universe created by the living God.
Jesus sits at the right hand of that living God because he served others first and foremost and because he saw in every individual the potential and treasure of their individual soul.
In the season of Lent that Christians try to use to push off the things of this world in favor of more spiritual things, let us remember why we make sacrifices, make them gladly and remember that others too like Jesus have done them willingly in the past.
We are the present. We as Christians look to the future of mankind as envisioned by God. It is a vision we share with God through Jesus and his examples of love, honor, commitment, sacrifice and personal endurance.
Let us be glad to fast and abstain from the temporary things of this world during this season of sacrifice, this season of Lent. Let us attempt to reset out buttons away from the world of the secular and retread a path to the world of the sacred and spiritual.
Let us be glad to pray. Let us be glad to be there also in spirit with Jesus in that desert of fasting and prayer.
"You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." (Psalm 32:7)