Lent is a season often marked by conversations about what we are "giving up for Lent." This is certainly a thought that is not out of keeping with the austerity of the Season, when Christians around the world think on Jesus' last days on this earth, especially those days before his crucifixion. It is also timely as we consider the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and praying, as was the custom for all teachers of his day before they began their public ministry.
Jesus taught carefully and fully, often going long hours beyond normal expectation, answering questions that were often silly or intended to trap him. He also spent long hours with hundreds of people who came to him for healing and many who came for inner healing through forgiveness and restoration of their sense of self. A careful study of Jesus' teachings helps us realize that he, like all the Biblical prophets before him, called the people of Israel back to faithfulness to God, aways from rigid rule keeping in place of a committed heart that longed for God's ways. He often made fun of the religious leaders who sought to keep his popularity at bay, trying to trap him or find fault with him. The people themselves often shielded him from harm even though many were equally skeptical of his assertion that he was there to do the will of his Heavenly Father. Most had never heard God referred to in such intimate terms.
His most poignant teaching, however, was to help people understand that God was not seeking to make them miserable with useless religious practices that exhausted their bodies and minds as well as their pocketbooks. He clearly reflected the prophets of old when he stated that instead of all the outward goings-on to indicate their religious fervor, God truly valued a tender and contrite heart above all things. It is the sacrifice God loved best. Jesus' words regarding God's Kingdom are simply another way of stating this thought: "Seek first God's Kingdom, and all these things will then be added to you."
Lent is a time when contemporary Christians have an opportunity to evaluate their lives, to disengage from activities that overwhelm and exhaust, that add nothing to our relationship with God. These can be pursuits after financial security, extreme religious austerity, allowing relationships to overwhelm and become out of balance, and so forth. God wants us to focus on God's own Divine Imperative--to seek first God's righteousness. To put our spiritual health on an equal footing with our physical and spiritual well being. To allow prayer its rightful place in our daily lives. To feast on God's Word and allow its refreshment to rebuild our spirits that have become tired and jaded with the world's demands.
What can we give to God this Lenten Season? Let us give God what he treasures most: a committed, tender, open and contrite heart. It is the best gift we can give our Heavenly Father.
And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witness of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and fOorever, Amen.