Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lent | Re-calibration

Lent can have the feel of a spiritual endurance test: do I have the will-power to hold out for forty days without succumbing to the siren lure of chocolate/alcohol/whatever-I-have-decided-to-abstain-from? But is self-flagellation – and, if we’re being honest, fairly token self-flagellation at that – really what it is about? While the decision to deny self and take up our cross daily are certainly prerequisites to following after Jesus (Luke 9:23ff), Jesus’ repeated invitation throughout the Gospels is: choose to enter into the life of the kingdom of heaven, through the process of repentance and belief (summarised in Mark 1:15). Though they might well be two sides to the same coin, perhaps Lent is better understood not as embracing the opportunity of dying to self but as embracing the opportunity of taking hold of the life of the kingdom…

To repent means to change our mind (literal translation), or to change the direction in which we are facing; while to believe means to actively step out in that new direction, as an expression of faith. To repent and believe, therefore, is to keep changing direction so as to keep in line with God’s changing will, to keep facing Jesus as he moves on from one place to the next. As I’ve said before, though that includes repenting from ‘sin’ – the times we fall short of God’s best for us – that alone is an inadequate definition: to repent can be pre-emptive (keeping us in God’s will) as well as reactive (returning to God’s will). Until his baptism, Jesus is in line with the Father’s will by being a carpenter, a builder of houses. From his baptism, he must change direction (repent) and head off on a new course (believe), that will lead, ultimately, to Jerusalem and a whole heap of trouble. The forty days he spent in the wilderness immediately following his baptism – the forty days that Lent draws so deeply on – are a period of re-calibration, making adjustments that he will carry into the next season of his life.

Perhaps the question God hopes we will ask through Lent is not what we should temporarily lay aside, but what long-term changes we need to put in place…

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