GEN 9: 8-15; I PT 3: 18-22; MK 1: 12-15
Dear friends! I recently read an article about a little boy who wanted to buy a pet dog. He went to the pet shop, saw five puppies for sale, and asked the shop owner how much they cost. The man replied, “Some are fifty dollars, some are more.”
The little boy pulled out his change, counted it, and announced that he had $1.47. The man said, “I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to save your money and come back again.”
Just then, the man’s wife brought out another puppy from the back of the store. It was smaller, had a crippled leg, and limped badly when it tried to walk. They explained that this one had been born without a hip socket and would always be lame.
“I wish I had the money to buy that one!” exclaimed the little boy with excitement. “It’s not for sale,” said the man, “but I’ll gladly give him to you for free.” But the little boy refused, saying: “No, sir. That little dog is worth just as much as the others. I’ll give you a dollar and forty-seven cents now, and fifty cents a month until I have paid in full.”
Confused, the man asked, “Why do you want a dog that will never run and play like the other puppies?” The boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg, supported by a metal brace.
He said, “Mister, I don’t run and play too well myself. I think this little puppy will need someone like me who understands.”
That’s the Catholic faith in a nutshell: Jesus become just like us, paid the full price of our sins, and offers us salvation, just because he loves us. During this holy season of Lent we need to remind ourselves this basic truth.
On the first Sunday of every Lent we find Jesus in the wilderness. He is in the desert without food, without shelter. He is tempted by Satan. We have three accounts in the gospels of Jesus’ temptation. The one in Mark, which we have just read, is the shortest—only two verses. But its brevity does not reduce its meaning.
Since we are human, we will be tempted. We will be lured to make decisions that are not the best choices for ourselves or for others. We do not need to be embarrassed about temptation. Everyone experiences it. Jesus himself was tempted, as is made clear in today’s gospel. It is, however, important to know how to deal with temptation — how to make choices that will truly benefit us rather than hurt us.
Temptation is really about freedom, having the freedom to say no to those things that will harm us and the freedom to say yes to those things that will help us. This is why it is important to cultivate the right orientation towards temptation.
You see often we approach temptation and the season of Lent which begins this week by placing too much emphasis on what is negative. We center too much on sin. What Lent is about is not so much saying no to sin, as saying yes to the Kingdom of God. The freedom that we are looking for is not freedom from our faults, but rather freedom for God’s purposes in our lives.
As you and I approach this Lenten season, our emphasis should not be simply on what we seek to avoid, but rather on the goodness that will result if we can in fact resist it. We might decide to avoid over-eating, drinking or smoking. However, we will find more power and energy if instead of simply saying these things are bad for us, we can realize that saying no to them will make us a healthier person.
As we try to resist the temptation to criticize, to judge, to be jealous, we will find more energy and power if instead of simply seeing these things as faults to avoid, we can realize that by resisting them we can build a life that is more thankful, more positive, more joyful.
If we seek to avoid temptation, we must emphasize that which is most positive and most powerful. Power comes from the goodness that our actions generate. The freedom that really moves us is not the freedom from sin, but the freedom for God’s Kingdom. Let us keep this freedom in mind as we proceed into this Lenten season. In this holy time we should ask ourselves not “how can I say no to sin,” but “how can I say yes to God?”