I’ve been thinking about this piece by Hans Boersma about Lent all day. I’m always a little excited when he posts something new to First Things, even though there’s only a 70% chance that I’ll mostly understand it. Today’s piece connected well. It begins:
Over the next 40 days, we join our Lord on the via dolorosa, the road of suffering, which culminates in his agonizing death on the Cross. We join him in fasting, in prayer, and in almsgiving.
But what if Jesus doesn’t want us to join him? What if he refuses our Lenten sacrifices and says to us: “I will take no bull-calf from your stalls, nor he-goats out of your pens” (Ps. 50:9)? All too easily, the thought may creep in that Jesus ought to be pleased that I join him in my fastidious Lenten endeavors. Let’s call this temptation the Lenten presumption.
Today, of course, is Shrove Tuesday, also popularly celebrated as Mardi Gras. It’s a day when many people eat it up because tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, begins the full discipline of Lent. Lent has an interesting effect on people, particularly as it comes to social media . . . and particularly for those of us who tend to hover on the edges of the liturgical calendar. Boersma’s piece is good in that it calls into question our place in the 40-day equation. He does this by bringing together Psalm 38 and the story of Zaccheus with a nice nod to Irenaeus. Boersma continues:
Jesus does not need us to follow him in his suffering; instead, we desperately need him to stick close to us. We do not do him a service by joining him in our Lenten practices. We, not he, are the beneficiaries of Lent.
It’s not like we’re doing God a favor by abstaining from things. The point is Jesus sticking close to us (“the friend that sticks closer than a brother”).
It’s a good little piece, one that succinctly teaches and challenges. As the day came to an end (with a meeting, granted), I was reminded of the good story that God has us in. And not just a good story, an immensely better story. But it’s a story that we need to enter from the proper entrance or we end up all out-of-whack in how we walk with Jesus.