There are various time markers throughout the year: January 1st; April 15th (tax day); July 1st (new fiscal year) etc. In our church calendar there are also time markers and today is one of them---the first Sunday of Lent. In the olden days---for me that would be 1950 to 1960 the season of Lent was reduced to listing things I would "give up for lent". For many it revolved around giving up candy----of course Sunday did not count as it was the "Lord's Day". St. Patrick's Day is always in Lent. People awaited the dispensation from the bishop so they could go out to eat and drink all night---it did not count as the bishop said it was O.K.
The Gospel for today is very brief and to the point. "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained there forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." This is not the only time Jesus spends time in the desert. He goes there "to get away from it" for a while-to recollect-to be on retreat---to think and to pray. For Jesus and for us that is a healthy thing to do---spend some time away from it all. If we can not physically drive to a retreat center for a few days we can spend some quiet time at home-get up a little earlier or stay up a little later-spend some time in prayer and mentally and spiritually get away from it all.
We like Jesus will be tempted by Satan and be among the wild beasts. Satan is the inner, invisible energy of people, groups, and social and political structures that inflict pain on people. These can turn into wild beasts tearing away at the very fabric of our lives, and families. These wild beasts are always with us, challenging us, determined to destroy us, forcing us to make a choice between feeding them or starving them until they die and no longer have meaning or control in our life. For some these wild beasts are all too familiar; whether it is an addiction to some particular substance from nicotine, alcohol, or even sugar. For others it is the insistence that I must always be right; that I know what is best for others; "don't tell me about tithing-I worked hard for my money"; "let them pull themselves up by their boot straps"; "they should go back to where they came from"; and the list goes on.
The last line in the Gospel today is the most challenging. "Repent, and believe in the Gospel". Why is it so difficult to repent and believe the Gospel-that we are loved by God and are called to share that love with all we meet on our earthly journey? The answer is because we have so many other beliefs that do not fit into this Good News of Jesus.
Repentance means taking the time---going out into the desert of our life---to pray and determine what it is in our life that dominates us and is holding us back from the conversion we need. Where do the competing beliefs come from? How are we feeding these beliefs? Perhaps it is a painful period in our life that we have so internalized that it is no longer a brief episode but a dominate event. Was it a painful divorce; a child who has moved out and with whom you no longer have contact; was it a former employer who you feel did not treat you right? Are we continuing to hold on to this hurt and pain to the point that we no longer believe the Good News of the Gospel---that we are loved by God beyond understanding. We are holding on to these hurts, nurturing them, sustaining them in existence by our attention to them. How long will you hold on to prior beliefs that no longer serve you or the community; beliefs that you now know are not of God; beliefs that are destructive not only to you but to those whom you love?
Scripture is filled with the constant challenge to take a step back---go into the desert---look at our life---repent of those things and ideas that hold us from accepting the Gospel. St. Paul calls this conversion metanoia. Matthew's Gospel encourages us: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6: 19-21).
Repenting and believing the Gospel is not a simple project for Lent and after 6 weeks resting and saying we did it another year. No, it is a life long process. A banner had the statement: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life".
As this is the first day of the rest of our lives let us take to heart the mandate of Jesus: REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.