First Sunday of Lent (2018) B
On Ash Wednesday many people received the ashes on their forehead. The Priest said to them, either ‘Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return’, or ‘Turn away from sin and believe in the Good News’. It is the second of these statements that is best reflects today’s readings. Indeed, Christ says almost the same words: ‘Repent and believe the Good News’. This message is for all time: for those who actually heard Christ say these words and for us today who hear them at Mass.
The message is in two parts: the first is ‘to repent’ or ‘to turn away from sin’. Lent is perhaps the time when more than any other we examine ourselves. The good Christian is not afraid to examine his or her conscience. It is not an easy thing to do because when we do it seriously we discover just how much sin is part of our lives; indeed, part of ourselves. There is a tendency in us all to pretend; to turn away from the reality of our sin. As if by not looking at one’s sinfulness we can fool ourselves. So, it takes a little courage to be honest with oneself, to face up to one’s sin.
Sin is a reality in us all. We have to learn to live with it, not to avoid it. But living with it is hard; especially for the good christian. It’s hard because I have to acknowledge things about myself, to myself, that I do not like. It would be much nicer if I could say what a wonderful person I am. But the good christian cannot say this; others may, but then they do not know us. Rather, I have to acknowledge that even though I try sin affects me all the time. It makes me selfish and intolerant of others; it makes me small minded; It makes me cowardly and weak-willed. It also makes me angry far too quickly: because my pride is so sensitive. These are realities in us all; man woman and child, priest and religious and pious layperson.
To deny sin in ourselves is to fool ourselves. But when we can acknowledge our sins then we can begin to do something about them. It is by recognising the enemy that we can then do battle. And the battle has already be won for us: this is the Good News of Jesus Christ; this is the Gospel, which is the second aspect of Lent: ‘Turn away from sin and believe the Good News’. Jesus is the Good News.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness. In other words to a lonely place. He was alone in a wilderness: there was no where to hide, or escape, and there was no one he could turn to for comfort and support. No, he was there alone, vulnerable and defenceless. We are told that for forty days Satan tempted him. So, alone and unaided he took on everything Satan could throw at him. Jesus felt these temptations: it wasn’t a game;
he wasn’t acting: it was real. The temptations were real. Jesus really did feel tempted just like the rest of us. To suggest otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Christ’s victory. Because inspire of Satan, and we can say inspire of the temptations he felt, Christ did not give in: he was victorious. He vanquished Satan and would do so again on Calvary, when he nailed our sins to the Cross.
His victory is our victory. We did not have to suffer and battle as Christ did, but yet he lets us share in his victory over sin. It doesn’t mean, however, that sin has disappeared from our lives; it hasn’t. We still have to live with it and will have to continue doing so until our dying day. But what it does mean is that Jesus has over come sin in us. There is no need to despair. We may continue to sin, and sometimes we can go through periods in our lives when sin seems to fill our horizons. When, try as we might, we cannot seem to overcome a particular sin. But St Paul had the same problem, but he did not despair. Rather, he looked to Christ and knew that he was both understood and forgiven.
This really is Good News. That God forgives our sins. No matter how bad we are we can be and will be forgiven by God. God has infinite patience with us. We go on sinning, offending God and the Church, but God sees our hearts, he sees the good will as well as the weakness. He cannot but forgive the repentant but weak sinner. And to be forgiven is to begin again; sometimes, in the case of big sins, it is almost to begin life again. . The person who is forgiven is grateful; and gratitude is an aspect of love. When we are forgiven we should love even more.
Lent then is a God given opportunity for us all, to look deep into ourselves, to acknowledge whatever sins lie there; to face up to them rather than to pretend, in the knowledge that God understands, he knows that we are sinners, he knows of what we are made, and all He wants to do is forgive us. The our lives begin again; we come alive again. Surely this is Good News.