Lent is a season of self denial. We take that to mean giving up sweets, or meats, or something we’d probably be better off without anyway.
Not that there is anything wrong with this. We should probably live this way all the time, not just Lent. So go ahead and give up something. Make it something good. For instance, I’m attempting to fast until evening, one day a week. Taking the money I would have spent for food that day and giving it to Bread for the World. Anyone care to join me? Love to have you come along.
Just understand what we’re doing doing and why. Self denial really doesn’t mean denying ourselves; something. Cookies. Cake. Ice cream. Cigarettes. Wine. Beer. Sugar and spice and everything nice.
We can deny ourselves all of that and more, but if we’re still all about us and what we’re bravely sacrificing, we’ve totally missed the point. In fact, we’re probably worse off because now we feel righteous, and superior and proud of what we’ve accomplished. We really ARE something, aren’t we!
Self-denial actually means denying ourselves ONE thing.
Look at the temptations of Jesus during his 40 days in the wilderness. It’s the reason we observe the 40 days of Lent in the first place.
There’s a common theme running through those three temptations. Jesus is being tempted to make it all about Jesus.
“Turn stones into bread and satisfy your hunger Jesus.”
Well, why not? Nothing particularly wrong with that. Jesus will do virtually the same thing when he feeds the 5,000 with a couple of loaves and a few fish. That was a miracle. This is a temptation. What’s the difference?
A miracle is about feeding 5000 hungry people. A temptation is about Jesus taking matters into his own hands to feed himself after his 40 day fast. Using God as his personal ATM.
Or, throw yourself off the pinnacle of the Temple. Let’s see if God has your back, or foot as the case may be. Better to know going in whether you can depend on God, right? You have to watch out for number 1.
Or, bow down to your desire for fame, wealth, and power. What glory and splendor is at your feet. Yours for the taking. If nothing else, think of all the good you could accomplish.
Isn’t that the basic fantasy everyone has walking away from the counter clutching their lottery ticket? We envision all the people we will help if we win. Family. Friends. All the good we can finally do. And a new car on the side. Now, that’s tempting!
You see where this is going. The three temptations are really one temptation in three different forms. What’s the point of Jesus life if it is not about Jesus? What is the point of my life if it is not about me? My safety, my security, my well-being, my happiness and my fulfillment? Me, me, me, me…
Jesus denies himSELF, or at least that version of himself, and puts the period there. Today, we’d call that self “ego.” The ego-self takes center stage in the universe, does its little song and dance and waits for the applause. Gives up sugar, or chocolate, or smoking. Turns stones into bread, whole grain organic of course. TA DA.
Jesus denies this ego-self because this is not who Jesus really is. And it’s not who we really are either. Though we spend a tremendous amount of energy on it. This ego-self is an illusion that leads to a dead end. A temptation that sells us short and leaves us banging our heads against the wall. It equates serving and self-serving. Good with what’s good for me.
What’s the outcome of all that? Look around. Does today’s politics look attractive to you? How about at the vast inequities in our society today. The ego-self walks a a road that ends in ruin, division, animosity, accusation and blame….
But there is another self. A more authentic version of Jesus and of us. A self that doesn’t run everything through the filter of ‘me’. A self that seeks wholeness and unity in loving the God who loves all things.
A self that perceives the world as God sees it, and fasts because there are too many people in our world without enough to eat. A self that gives up some small pleasure as a gesture of connection and understanding with those who must live their lives devoid of the pleasures we take for granted. This is the self-emptying that Paul talks about in Philippians.
You see, the ego-self we deny at Lent is not particularly awful, just like the temptations Jesus faces. Just kind of stunted. Not the whole picture, though we treat it as if it is, to our own detriment. There is something better.
It’s the difference between saying your prayer and living it. The ego-self says long and elaborate prayers. The disciplines of Lent deny this self so that we can discover a more authentic self, true to who God created us to be.
Not reciting prayers, but living prayer. Emptying ourselves so that God may fill us.
P.S If you’d like to join me in a Lenten fast, leave a comment. We can check in with each other.