What Is Lent?
Scripture reference: John 9:1-41
Jesus asked the man born blind to put mud on his eyes and then go wash. On Ash Wednesday we were asked to put dirt on our foreheads as a sign of our annual efforts to wash in the waters of conversion as Jesus asks us. We are to address our symbolic blindness of heart and mind in this Lenten season of penance, fasting, and service.
There are six elements which will instruct us that our blindness, like that of the man born blind, may be cured and that our sending may be accomplished.
- Note, curiously, the blind guy does not ask to be cured. This cure is an initiative on Jesus’ part. The risen Lord still makes the first move today; we love him because he first loved us.
- Jesus’ disciples make a theology project of the event. The disciples—still at this point proponents of popular religion—ask the question so many even in our time would ask: “how did he get this way? Did he sin or was it his parents?” In other words, “is God punishing him?” Neither; it is for God’s glory. Jesus, however, asks a different question: “what can we do for him?” The glory of God is manifested not so much in what we know but what we do with what we know. Putting on ashes during this Lenten season means asking the question Jesus asks at every turn: “what can we do for him?”
- He [the blind guy] does what Jesus tells him even though he doesn’t really expect anything … except to get the dirt off of his face. Actually, he has no choice but to do what Jesus says, unless he wants to walk around with a dirty face.
- The blind man’s associates, all of whom have sight, are clearly blind to the circumstances and choose to remain so. It costs to do something for people, and I don’t mean money …
- They can’t change his mind about what he knows … even though this knowledge is not convenient for anyone around him. After he was cured, the people wanted him to hide the inconvenient truth of it. The ashes of Lent call us to exercise ourselves in revealing the inconvenient truths we might rather hide for the sake of peace or friendship.
- Jesus seeks him out a second time to complete the work of giving him spiritual sight as well. Now the man sees what the legalists are blind to: Jesus is the Son of Man! The revelation is after the traumatic experience; God has come into human time.
Not a day goes by that we are not found at the gate sitting with this blind man and presented with the choice of living in the vision Jesus has given us, or giving in to the safety of social convention.
We experience these six events of conversion from darkness to light—the ever present theme in the Gospel of John. We go from being comfortable in our blindness, adapting to our circumstances (living in darkness), to experiencing new vision, new insight, and the adjustments we must make. More importantly, others must make adjustments to us and because of us.
You, as young adults in college, discover many things are are awakened to realities that many of your friends, families, and associates have not seen. Sometimes it is comfortable to leave people in their ignorance even when it isn’t good for them. Jesus comes to us today a second time to confirm us in our new visions.
The first movement is that there is much dirt on our eyes during these years. We learn all kinds of stuff about our faith, our communities, our institutions and ourselves. We learn so much that is confusing and conflicting. Wash it off with study, interaction, discussion, and even argument … and yes, reading and thinking.
Don’t let people change your minds about what you have come to know, and above all, don’t keep it to yourself. YOU are sent.
Take some time now to think on these events as they present themselves in your life this Lent. What can you do to confuse yourself with new information about the poor, about the environment, about your role in the community of believers? Let God rub mud in your blind eyes.
What do you need to instruct yourself about these days? What challenges do Pope Francis and his ways present to you? What do you like or not like about this particular pope? What are you going to do about understanding these emotions?
This is the meaning of Lent. We are a people with dirty faces sent to be washed and made to see.