Monday, 27 February 2012

Lent, faith, and the narrow way

Jesus loves his neighbour, like no-one else before or since 
precisely because he loves God, like no-one else, before or since

As we journey through Lent together, and with Jesus there may be something which we find a little odd. Why does Jesus need to be tested in the wilderness. Sometimes our images of Jesus get in the way of how we read the gospel accounts - we imagine him as somehow different to us in his humanity. He is a kind of 'Superman'. How many times have I pointed someone to the example of Jesus for them only to say - 'Ah, but that was Jesus - he was the Son of God!', as if his Divinity over rode his humanity, as if in those difficult moments he faced he switched Off his humanity and switched On his divinity.

This in itself might be worth pondering - does my image of Jesus deny his full humanity, that he was tempted in every way as we are . . . but got through because he was also divine? 

Jesus in his humanity has to learn faith - his Jewish heritage has taught him this. He knows that in only total dependence on God his Father can he live the fully human life he is called to, but he doesn't even go into the desert because of his own choice - no he is driven there by the Spirit. Even in going into the wilderness he has to respond in his humanity in dependence upon the spirit's guidance, in this case firm direction.

He has to learn faith.

Perhaps we might also sit with this thought for a minute or two. If Jesus had to go forty days without food in the wilderness to learn this lesson, what or where has been my wilderness of learning faith. Have I learned faith or a set of beliefs?

It was said that a disciple went to one of the fathers of the church and said, 'Abba, give me a word' The man replied - 'Go and learn what this means "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength" '. 
The disciple departed from him. Ten years later he returned and said 'Abba, I have learnt that word, please give me another' and the Father said to him, 'go and learn what this means, "love thy neighbour as thyself"', and the disciple went from him and never returned.

Faith is utter dependence upon God - it is abandonment to him - trusting utterly in his unfailing love. Loving him with all we have and all we are. Faith gives us Absolute security to Love freely as He Loves, but it is not easy to find. Hard and narrow is the way and few there are that find it. It takes time. Forty years for Israel, Ten years for the disciple and forty days for Jesus, yet it is a work worth the all we have and all we are, as it requires that of us. Lent is given to us as a means by which we might seek out that narrow way.

Through Lent we abandon our reliance on those things we too easily substitute for faith, things that have become tyrannous. We let go of our reliance on food, fasting to discover the truth that the word of God sustains us if you like, miraculously. We let go of our reliance on money, giving alms, discovering the truth that God provides. We let go of our need to rule our own lives and the tyranny of time, in praying much and learning the truth that God orders all our doings and will sustain the world.

When we learn to so trust God, then we discover that He is the source of all life and love - and thus we are set free to love as Jesus does, the one who went this way before us, giving his life over to God.

We may think of our life as a seed. We may tend to think that the key to the Christian life is somehow making ourselves grow in love - certainly that is how we seem to approach this whole question of how do we love our neighbour. We imagine it must come from within Us, but it doesn't, it Only comes from Him. If we give this seed of our lives over in abandonment to God, he plants it in good soil, where it dies . . . and yields much fruit.

A Life given to God is returned many fold to the world

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