Luke 4:1-13 (First Sunday of Lent)
Is there a way to relate Lent to Valentine’s day today? After all, the word “lent” is embedded right there in va“lent”ine. 🙂 Could there be a connection?
Anyhow, we can begin with the three temptations in the Gospel today. The taunt of the dark side is simple. The devil comes to Christ to tempt him (and us) with three simple propositions: (a) you don’t have to go hungry; (b) you don’t have to be so powerless, so helpless; and (c) you don’t have to die.
These three tempt us to deny our hunger, powerlessness, and mortality. These three lure us into having a false sense of gratification, control, and immortality. These three tempt us to forget that we are dust and to dust we shall return. These three tempt us to deny our humanity.
The radical truth of Lent is this: we are redeemed not by being taken out of this planet, not by being whisked away to some alternate universe. We are redeemed right here, even if incompletely, in and through some indelible mysteries in our lives. These are the mystery of our perennial hunger, the mystery of our powerlessness over the things that matter, the mystery of our dying. In short, we are redeemed in and through the mystery of our humanity. We are redeemed by God who takes upon himself the mystery of our humanity.
We know that being human is surely more than just these dark and morbid things; that our humanity is more than just our hunger or helplessness or mortality. These are things we’d rather avoid and even destroy. Who would not want to rid this world of hunger or impotence or death? The cross itself is a dark and morbid thing. Where can the redemption be in that, in being fastened to the cross?
The temptations of the dark side are thus quite subtle and arguably persuasive. The temptations lure us to defy the cross, and all that is tragic and repulsive about the human condition.
And we would have been readily convinced and converted were it not for what God in Christ has done for us. We would have easily yielded to these temptations were it not for true love revealing itself to us in how Christ lived and died and rose for us. This perhaps is the connection we can make between Lent and Valentines, between these powerful temptations and the grace of redeeming love. The temptations would have been legitimate propositions, valid aspirations even, were it not for true love, the love that was revealed to us and borne for us by Christ.
In Christ, and even in our own limited experience, we can see that love is subverted by a false sense of fullness, power, and pride. You want to destroy love? Bring in this artifice of fullness, power, and pride. True love begins with a true sense, a mutual sense of hunger, helplessness and humility. True love does not go the distance on self-satisfaction, power, or pride. True love does not deny the humanity, the poverty, the diminishments and the littleness of who we are.
There is nothing like children to remind us of littleness and love. A couple of days ago, my former research assistant at the Observatory visited me with her four-year-old daughter, Nynaeve. I gave her two stuffed animals (a teddy bear and a clown fish) that were given to me in a restaurant. I remember not minding the carrying of those stuffed toys with me since I knew that they would someday make someone happy. When Nynaeve got the stuffed animals, she cuddled them and smiled a smile that I thought was worth more than all the roses of Valentine.
Something dawned on me again somewhere in the wake of her smile: human hands made that stuffed teddy bear and clown fish. Human hands carried them, and gave them to another pair of little hands. We can be happy with so little; we can give with the little that we have; we can be redeemed with the little that we are.
Since when in our growing up, in our growing big did it take so much to make us happy, to make us believe that we are loved? Since when in our growing old were we lured into imagining that we can only be loved for the bigness of what we can give and not for the littleness that we are.
Ponder then the littleness, the finitude, the diminishments and dustiness of who we are. When Christ refuses to yield to temptations that would have us deny and defy our humanity, we discover the depth of his love. We discover how, in and through our humanity, we are redeemed for God again.
It is love, profoundly human and deeply of God, that redeems us. Such a love we see on the human face of Christ. Such a love is given from a position not of power but of vulnerability. There is nothing weak about such a love that is borne to the point of hunger, impotence, and dying. There is nothing duplicitous or false about such a love that is wide-eyed about all that is human. Such a love is what we promise to give each other on Valentine’s and beyond. And we rest our hope in such a love to bring us back to life, to return us to Paradise, through Christ who has loved us to the point of bearing in his body the indelible marks of our humanity, the same Christ who so loved us to the point of sharing our hunger and vulnerability and mortality.