1st Sunday of Lent Year B
We have began our Lenten journey. Our renewal and restoration journey starts now. It starts here.
Many of us are proud. So proud are we that we let our pride blind us from recognising our sins. So proud are we that we judge everyone else’s sins but ours. So proud are we that we close ourselves from the healing touch of Jesus. Or perhaps our sins so shameful that we buried them deep in our consciousness? As a result, our sins continue to hurt us and hurt those around us, especially those we love most. We carry our sins into our families and into our communities, we hurt our spouses, our friends, our brothers and sisters. Our children watch us, learn from us and repeat the same mistakes. In due course, they too hurt themselves and those they love. We passed our sins onto our children, and in turn, they onto their children. This is the true tragedy of Original Sin.
Reading the above, what are your thoughts right at this moment? Are you thinking: I know of this and that other person who is doing exactly that – sinning and not recognising his/her sins, hurting those he/she loves. My dear friends, why am I looking elsewhere for such a person? Am I the one who is so proud or shameful that I fail to recognise my own sins? Do not look elsewhere, look inside ourselves instead.
This was the people’s attitude when Noah was building the Ark. In Noah’s time, the world was filled with evil. Yet they were oblivion, unaware of their sins. Like the proverbial frog in water slowly being brought to boil, Jesus said this about the people, “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mt 24:38-39)
We have entered the season of Lent, a preparation period for Easter. On Good Friday, Christ died for our sins. As this week’s Second Reading put it, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” (verse 18) We go through our Lenten observance each year – praying, almsgiving, self-denying – often without truly internalising the meaning of our Lenten observance. Jesus’ resurrection on Easter is meaningless without his death on Good Friday. Likewise, our Lenten observance is meaningless without our repentance. We fail to acknowledge our sins – no, not the trivial ones that we tend to bring to Confession time and time again – but the truly grave sins that we are too proud or too ashamed to admit.
So, what must I do? Here is a three-step process. Firstly, I must clear away all the obstacles to God’s grace. We often put up excuses: “I am ok, I don’t need this.” “I am too busy right now, another time.” “Now is not a good time.” These are but manifestations of my pride, my shame. I am hiding from my own sins, not prepared to face up to them. The next step is to lay down my pride. To be healed, I must be prepared to be vulnerable. Speak to Jesus and say, Lord I need healing. In spite of my shortcomings, speak to Jesus the same way the father of a possessed child spoke to him, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) Finally, after I have cleared away the obstacles and stand vulnerable before God, all is left for me is to truly open myself to His grace. Invite Him into my heart and my mind, and be ready to be renewed and restored.
In the story of Noah, God sent the water of the great flood to cleanse the world of evil. The First Reading speaks of God establishing a covenant with his creations: that the world will never be flooded again; and that death and destruction will never again befall upon his people (verse 12-15). The Second Reading draws a parallel between the water of Noah’s time and the water of our baptism (verse 21). Like the water of the flood, the water of baptism washes away our sins and cleanses us of evil. It is only when we are truly open the God’s grace that we are able to internalise these priceless teachings of the Church. For as the Second Reading explained, sin is not like dirt that we can just wash away. Sin brings hurt, hurt brings pain and pain brings suffering. This is why Jesus took upon my sins. The Gospel tells the story of how Jesus allowed Himself to be tempted like us, as He wandered in the wilderness for 40 days. But Jesus did not succumb to temptations. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15) Even though He is without sin Himself, He took upon my sins and suffered on my behalf on the cross, so that I may be freed from sin and death.
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Php 2:7-8)
My dear brothers and sisters, without removing the obstacles, without becoming vulnerable and laying open to God’s grace, I cannot truly understand the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross and my rebirth through the water of baptism. We are at the beginning of our Lenten journey. I pray for all who are reading this reflection that you may experience true renewal this Lent. Jesus said in the Gospel this week, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (verse 15). Our restoration to grace starts here. It starts now. Let us embark on our Lenten journey.