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February 18, 2022
Sometimes, I believe, it is hard to remember that using slogans to promote an idea is nothing new; not a modern-day Madison Avenue parlor game. I am not as steeped in ancient history as I might wish I was, but even in the Hebrew Scriptures, there is obvious evidence of the use of slogans to promote a broader message. The Great Shema Prayer of Deuteronomy – Hear o Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole mind and with all your strength (Deut 6:4-5). The prayer has greater meaning if we understand that the Hebrew word Avah, used for love, means to obey. The Hebrew books of Wisdom, Sirach, and Proverbs are replete with short bits of advice and wisdom. Many of the teachings of Jesus take these bits and pieces of advice and tweaks them, builds upon them to give greater significance and importance; You have heard it said… But I say… (cf. Matt 5 – 7). One of the more popular ideas that transcends religion and culture is the Golden Rule: Do onto others what you would have others do onto you.
A quip I have often heard – No mistake is complete until the blame is fully secured – points to an unfortunate attribute of human nature – Finger Pointing! I am no more innocent of this unfortunate trait as anybody. The challenge by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel: Why do I point out the splinter in my neighbor’s eye, and ignore the plank in my own? (Lk 6:39-45); or from John’s Gospel: Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone… (Jn 8:1-11) Blaming others, recognizing someone else’s mistakes always seems easier than admitting our own. I often forget that when I have one finger pointing to someone else, I have three more pointing back at me.
Lent is intended to be a season of personal reflection, honest assessment of our responsibilities in our families and in our neighborhoods. Lent is not a time to give up chocolate and ignore our lack of concern for our neighbor. We can diet, quit smoking, even pray any day, we don’t need to wait until the season of Lent. Perhaps we might consider that Jesus, the Son of God found it necessary to spend forty days and nights in the desert, in prayer and fasting. Lent is a time of reflection, and Lent is a time of preparation. Jesus didn’t need to reflect upon his sins, he had none. But Jesus did need to reflect upon his relationship with his Father, so that he would have the courage and strength to begin his public ministry that would eventually lead to his death; death on the cross.
To just reflect upon our own sins, point our fingers inward is critical. We need to be aware of our failures to love others as Christ would have us love others. But if our reflections stop at the finger pointing, there being no change in our ways, then we completely miss the intention of Lent. A truly successful season of Lent brings a person to the point of exhilaration that is unleashed on Easter Sunday; an exhilaration that drives us to become the loving people of God. Lent is not a time to “give up”, but a time to give away; to give away attitudes of superiority, personal entitlement, greed, etc. Lent is not a time of emaciating starvation. Lent is a time for rejuvenating energy in Christ.
Deacon Bill Stimpson