First Sunday of Lent: Faith is transformative
Today’s readings: Deuteronomy 26, 4-10; Romans 10, 8-13; Luke 4, 1-13.
This is the first week of another Lenten journey. The purpose of this ‘journey’ is not to undertake sacrifices, to refrain from delicacies we usually enjoy, to stop smoking or to revise temporarily aspects of our behaviour. There is something much, much deeper than this about Lent.
At the end of the road of this journey this privileged time of grace will lead us to the proclamation that the Lord is Risen, that he died but rose from the dead so that we can live and live fully. But to come to this conclusion we will be led throughout the coming weeks to enter our inner self and ask, and honestly answer, the most uneasy and intimate questions about our true loyalties and motivations in all we do.
The first reading today from the book of Deuteronomy is a profession of faith. As a profession of faith it sounds very atypical because it is in the nature of a narrative rather than an enunciation of things to believe in, as we usually find in the creed or any catechism. This reading, seen in the light of the other gospel narrative of Jesus being tempted in the desert, sets the tone for what we should aspire to between now till the celebration of Easter.
The Scriptures invite us to acknowledge what in life may be blocking us or making it difficult for us to experience concretely that inner freedom that nothing and no one can take away from us. The temptations narrated in the gospel text are universal, in the sense that they are timeless and are the very basic provocations we all face and at all times.
We all, some time or other, acknowledge our weaknesses when faced with dire financial or existential situations, when we find ourselves in positions of power and tempted to abuse of what little power we may have over others, or when we discover our shifting loyalties in the face of the different and alluring gods we create for ourselves.
Lent is meant to make us come face to face with these crude realities we may be carrying inside us, and actually unveil our real self, which at times heavily contrasts with the self we want to project. There is so much we are tempted with all the time but which at the end of the day makes us only experience our daily dying. We all aspire to be liberated from all this for the sake of our own well-being.
God manifests Himself powerfully precisely in these moments of death to save us, to give us life, and abundantly. Unless we acknowledge in our daily stories what predicaments characterise our very being and behaviour and how it is possible to experience God’s liberation from whatever is enslaving us physically or morally, it would be hard to imagine what faith is, let alone to persist in believing.
Belief in God as a mere ideology no longer makes sense in this day and age. Faith can only be autobiographical. This explains why at the heart of the reading from Deuteronomy we have a story of liberation which in the Jewish tradition became the people’s confession of faith. My confession of faith, far from being a repetition of doctrines, can only be the personal testimony of healing experienced and freedom achieved.
The story of “the wandering Aramaean” in Deuteronomy, represents the collectivity that endured a harsh slavery in Egypt and was powerfully liberated after the Lord God heard their cries. It is a story to be perennially re-enacted in our stories. That is how faith becomes transformative in the way we live and we look at things, how it translates concretely to impact on what challenges our very being and our understanding of life.
Faith disconnected from what we actually go through in life will fail to impact on us and will eventually phase out of our very soul. Christ died and was risen so that with him, through him, and in him we can experience death without remaining blocked in it.