February 18, 2018 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
February 18, 2018
Mark 1: 12-15
Fr. George Smiga
Two friends run across one another on the street. “Bob,” one calls out, “It’s been too long. How are you doing? Hey, are you still dating Louise?” “No,” Bob said, “I broke up with her”. “Wow,” said his friend, “The two of you were together for a long time. Wasn’t Louise the one that insisted you quit smoking?” “Yes she was,” said Bob. “And didn’t you stop drinking because Louise asked you to?” “Yes, I did,” said Bob. “And didn’t you give up swearing because you knew it would make her happy?” “Sure did!” said Bob. “And I can be wrong on this, but didn’t you stop gambling because you knew how much it upset her?” “That was one of the best decisions I ever made,” said Bob. “Well, Bob, I don’t get it. You did all of these things to please Louise. Why did you break up with her?” “Well,” Bob said, “When I saw how much improvement I made in myself, I figured I could do better.”
There is nothing wrong with self-improvement, but that is not what Lent is about. Lent is a season of forty days in which we try to follow the command of Jesus in today’s passage from Mark. He says, “Repent. Believe in the gospel.” But what does it mean to believe in the gospel? What is the gospel? What is the good news? There’s many ways to say this, but here are a few. The good news is our belief that God is destroying the evil of this world through Jesus Christ. The gospel is our conviction that God is establishing the Kingdom of God. The gospel is our faith that God is working through Christ to bring about a new creation. The gospel insists that the structures of this world are being rearranged and reformed in order to make them in conformity with God’s will. So, the gospel asserts that things are changing. The kingdom is coming in and evil is going out. And evil, which the scriptures personify in the character of Satan, that evil will be destroyed.
This is why on the first Sunday of Lent, every year, our gospel is one of three versions of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Even though we call these scenes “the temptation” of Jesus, the word that Mark uses is better translated, “test” or “struggle.” So, Jesus goes into the desert to fight with Satan and to defeat him. He does this because this is Jesus’ mission: to defeat Satan and to destroy the evil of our world.
This is the gospel. This is what we are called to believe: God is destroying the evil of this world and establishing the kingdom. But when you look at the evil that surrounds us, this is not an easy belief to accept. When you look at the violence that is still part of our society, recently shown in the shootings in Florida, when you see the dysfunction of our government, when you see how many people in business and in authority seem to be motivated by greed and self-interest, it is hard to believe that evil is on the way out. But this is what we are asked to believe. The gospel insists that the battle with Satan has been engaged, that Jesus will win, and that we are called to join in that battle on Jesus’s side.
So there is nothing wrong with deciding to lose a few pounds during Lent. But it would be more central to the gospel to ask, “Who am I estranged from? Who has hurt me? And can I take any steps to reconcile?” because that would be moving the world closer to the peace of God’s kingdom. There is nothing wrong with giving up cigarettes or alcohol for Lent. But it would be better to ask, “What influence could I exert on the structures of our government to protect the unborn, the immigrants, and the poor?” There is nothing wrong with praying more during Lent. But it is more fundamental to the gospel that we ask, “Where do I see injustice? In my family, at my job, among my friends? And how can I take steps to oppose it?”
Lent is not about self-improvement. Lent places us in the desert with Jesus, facing off against Satan. So this Lenten season, let us believe in the gospel—the gospel that tells us that the battle has begun and that we are called to do our part to undo the evil of our world.