Today’s readings remind us that Lent is a season of joy. What’s that, how can we call this season of penance and almsgiving “joyful”? Recently a friend reminded me that Lent is God’s Invitation to Come Home. If Lent’s forty days awaken me to my relationship with God, perhaps impel me to some concrete action to renew or deepen that relationship (maybe penance and/or almsgiving?) -- I can truly rejoice.
In today’s first reading we hear of “rejoicing and happiness in what I create.” I think this says that God has made us to be happy. We all know suffering, but “No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard” in God’s plan for us. As a well-known hymn says, “The Lord has promised good to me / His Word my hope secures.” And today’s Psalm sings gratitude for God’s kindness in a world of suffering: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”
It may be hard for some of us to feel the gratitude and joy in these readings. If you are grieving over the death of someone you love, or suffering a great disappointment, or if it is your constant vocation to combat evil or suffering (perhaps you’re in law enforcement or health care?) -- Lent may feel irrelevant to your pain or the pain of those you must deal with. Yet the Scriptures tell us that God is with us in our pain, and that God has already rescued us, in our salvation in Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
In today’s Gospel narrative we can all imagine the pain and anxiety that the father feels because his son is “near death.” Thinking about this wealthy and powerful man, a “royal official,” I’m suddenly reflecting that I could name at least three wealthy and powerful men in Omaha today who have suffered the death of young sons. The desperate man in this Gospel has heard about Jesus and has traveled from Capernaum to Cana; I read somewhere that the towns were about 20 miles apart, and you know he didn’t just drive that distance in his BMW. I don’t know if he walked, or rode horseback or in a horse-drawn chariot (images from movies like Ben Hur and Gladiator here), but the journey had to take at least hours, maybe days, probably slowed by his retinue. He must have already believed in Jesus to leave his beloved son and make the trip. Then Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
Of course we all like “signs and wonders,” and now the Gospel gives us one. When Jesus says “Your son will live,” this official believes him. He takes the word of the Word of God. And on his way home, his slaves meet him -- “and he and his whole household came to believe.” I take the father’s faith and actions as “signs and wonders” indeed. In his trouble and suffering, he asked Jesus for help. He heard God’s Word and believed in God’s power to rescue and heal. And when he rejoiced, he shared his faith.
Lent invites us to take our anxieties and griefs and sins and failings, all the troubles of the world, to this healing God. Each day invites us to renew our faith and prayer and gratitude and, as we are promised, JOY.
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