Just too good to be true?

1st Sunday of Lent (B) 2021

‘The spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness’ Notice that: he was driven; it’s almost like saying he was pushed. It’s not something a person would normally want to do. That’s because the desert is a lonely, hostile place. I remember spending a night in the Sinai desert; sleeping on the ground out in the open; not even a tent.  I have never been so cold in my life. And Jesus endures this for forty nights!  I was so cold I couldn’t sleep. In the night there were all sorts of strange noises; some strange wild animals came into our camp, probably looking for food. I was worried that one of us might have been their food!  To have spent 40 days in that place would have been quite an experience. You can feel very small and vulnerable. 

When Jesus left the desert he went into Galilee and proclaimed the Good News from God. The message he proclaimed was a good one; one to make people happy and contented; not that everyone listened. “Repent and believe the Good News” he repeated to anyone who would listen. We hear something similar on Ash Wednesday, “turn away from sin and believe the Gospel.’ Repentance means to turn away. And this is what Jesus asks us to do during Lent. He’s not asking us to go into the wilderness, but he is asking us to turn away from sin and believe the Good News.

If we believed the Good News then we would turn away from sin. Because the Good News is just that: that in spite of our sins the God loves us, because He is a God of mercy. Why should that be so hard to accept? And yet it must be because many people cannot believe in God’s mercy. If He were a God of justice they would believe it,  a God who keeps a record of all our sins and will punish accordingly: this is the kind of God many could believe in, because we understand that when you do wrong you deserve to be punished. It’s something we’re taught from our earliest years. In school we are punished if we break the rules. But God isn’t like this. He isn’t like us. He is a God of love and mercy who forgives us our sins, no matter how serious they are or have been.  Is this too good to be true?  No, it is true. It is the Good News. 

So during Lent, knowing that we are loved and forgiven, we strive to avoid sin in our lives; we try not to be selfish, or angry or hard hearted. We try not to judge others.  We try but of course we fail. But to repent means to keep trying; you don’t turn away from sin just once, you keep having to do that. Christ went to a lot of trouble to tell us the Good News: not just 40 days in the desert but so much more. He went through agony for us and then died a cruel death. Why wouldn’t we take the trouble to listen to what he says?  It will make us better, happier people. 

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