We are beginning the preparation for the major event of our Christian history, the death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah. At dinner tonight I told my brothers I was spending the evening writing a Reflection for this Sunday. One replied that I should write about “fasting”. I asked him about what should I say, he told me, “Tell them you’re in favor of it.” There is more to this season than fasting. There is more to the Readings for this liturgy. Lent might be a good time to fast from feeling falsely guilty.
As we pray from Ash Wednesday to the weekend we might consider the role of our expectations in our spiritual and relational lives. The suffix “itis” comes from the Greek adjective for inflammation or disease. Perfectionitis sounds like a good inflammation of the ego. We could fast from eating that for Lent.
There is no word “compassionitis” because it is a blessing not an illness. I am all for ideals, high principles, lofty aspirations, but only if compassion trumps them all. This first few days leading up to the First Sunday of Lent, guilt-itis can be our first-fasting stop and I am in favor of that!
Covenants were a hot topic of God’s early conversations with those who would become the nation of Israel. God made one with Abram who became Abraham the Father of Faith in the One God. The result of that conversation was a blessing for all of his posterity. What we hear in the First Reading for this liturgy is a covenantal-conversation between God and Noah the result of which is a blest relationship between God and all living creation.
Notice that in proper English grammar the speaker says his/her pronoun at the end. “He, she and I”, “them and us”. In this reading we hear God using incorrect grammar, but proper Covenantish.The covenant will be between “Me and you and every living creature with you.” God is the agent, the do-er, the recover-er. All of creation, through this pledge of fidelity, will be in a for-ever state of recovery and non-abandonment.
The covenants explicitly called for a sign. Circumcision became the physical sign for the people of Israel of their being in such a relationship. In this account of the history of God’s-initiated conversations, a “bow” in the sky will be a permanent reminder to God of the everlasting fidelity promised to Noah and all creation. There will be dark and cloudy days ahead, darkness and clouds being formed by human irreverence and rebellion, but “No more floods” of destruction.
No more floods so the first real picture of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus in the desert. He is with the “wild beasts” who do not injure Him physically. Satan attempts to injure His identity and messengers from God ministered to Him during these temptings by the Satan. Satans in the history of the Persian Empire, which did extend into Palestine, were political agents who went around testing secretly the loyalty of the king’s subjects of the realm. Jesus is not being tempted to sin, but to be unfaithful to His calling and person.
For the sake of the drama John leaves the area by his being arrested and Jesus, fresh from the desert, appears doing His loyal best by proclaiming that the time had arrived with Him. This time is both for His arrival with His new kind of kingdom, and for the Judeans to “let go” to what they are hanging on to. Jesus and His Gospel is a furtherance of the Covenantal-Conversation initiated by God with the people of Abraham, Noah, and Moses. The letting go has to do with the acceptance of Jesus as the anointed, the Messiah. They were being asked to let go of so much of their practices and beliefs, their history and their future.
It can sound as if the people were all terrible and unusual sinners and Jesus was coming to shame them, scold them and generally calling them to a moral shape-up. We can picture John and Jesus both as preachers announcing a kingdom of fear-response rather than faith-response. This would collide with the call to believe in the “Good News” which is the Gospel. In receiving ashes this week we are encouraged to believe the Gospel and this is our prayer-mission these days.
These coming weeks of Lent we will repent or recover from various forms of “itis”. This week we will fast from perfectionitis”, a common virus which is rampant among Christians. Its effects are anger at self and judging harshly of others. Its side-effects include general feelings of guilt, insufficiency and depression. It can be contacted by misinterpreting Holy Scripture as well as true teachings of the Church. It can result in the ability to control one or more persons within families or communities.
Perfectionitis moves some to please while never being pleased themselves. Those suffering with this disease love approval, but reject it when offered. Their intensity can be attractive and so contagious. It results in an on-going conversation with ones self. To prevent or recover from this sickness, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
I’m in favor of this kind of fasting.
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