Lent, like life, is a journey. If we liken Lent’s 40 days of testing, purging, and penance to Israel’s 40-year trek through the wilderness, then our Promised Land is the full joy of Resurrection hope and, of course, eternal life. In our desert wandering, we leave in the sand whatever is worldly and unfruitful still in us, so that we can embrace the full promise of Easter in the Risen Christ.
TWO ENDS OF THE STICK
My Lenten reflection for March 3 took me to Luke 9:23 (CSB), where Jesus tells His disciples, “’If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up His cross daily, and follow me.’” Bishop Robert Barron, author of the devotional, Lenten Gospel Reflections, then challenged me: “Where is your ego overly dominant?”
My ego? If anything, I thought, I’ve suffered from a poor self-image all my life. What ego?
False humility, however, is just as insidious as arrogance, if not more so. They are two ends of the same stick we call pride. Even along my Lenten discipline, a whisper in my ear kept telling me that I had to pray, and fast, and do good deeds, so that I might be worthy of God’s love and saving grace. In other words, the voice was saying the Cross of Jesus is not enough; somehow, I had to earn heaven. That’s ego. And it must die. Every day.
THE LOVE AND THE PROMISE
I remembered my devotional reading from just the day before, on Ash Wednesday, in Deuteronomy 7:7-8. Before possessing the Promised Land, Moses gathers His people, “’The LORD had His heart set on you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors, He brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.’” (CSB)
As God delivered Israel from slavery to Egypt, so God delivers you and me from slavery to sin (see Romans 6:16, et.al.). He leads us to an even greater home He has shown us, a heavenly kingdom, a New Jerusalem. Jesus says, (John 14:2, CSB), “’In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?’”
But we can’t earn our way into it. It’s God’s love-gift to His faithful children. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, CSB). And “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift –” (Ephesians 2:8, CSB).
The source of salvation is the same: God who has loved us, not because we are so big, strong, beautiful, noble, successful. No, in fact, we are often just the opposite. We are among the neediest. Even so, God loves us because He is our Heavenly Father. God IS love. He made us; we are His.
And God is faithful to His promise: I know that God saves because He said He would. From the moment of our fall, God declared that a descendant of Eve would crush the enemy beneath His feet. “Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32, CSB. Also Acts 2:2, Romans 10:13).
None of this depends on me – nor on you – save our trust in God’s love and faithfulness.
THE DAILY CROSS
The gift of salvation is free. Paradoxically it comes with a price – the denial self, the crucifixion of the ego. And so I pray, I fast, I do good deeds. Not to win heaven, but to be free of the world and all that binds me to it, but so that I may enjoy even more the life in the Spirit, the Easter declaration that “He Is Risen!”, and world yet to come.