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First Sunday of Lent Year B
Lent is a good time for anyone affiliated with a Christian religion. Those who are prepping for Christian initiation at Easter will study, fast and pray. Those of us who are long time members will examine our consciences to recover what it means to be a Christian today.
Throughout the season there are some amazing and challenging biblical texts to keep us focused. Today’s gospel, for example, helps us think about the temptations in our lives.
In a biblical perspective the word “temptation” points to a trial that we might encounter. It requires making a free choice to be faithful to the Creator’s marvelous vision for the cosmos and its never ending evolution. Made in the image of God how do our actions help us develop and sustain a good relationship with God and creation? In other words, how can I cultivate “Godliness” in my life and for others?
On a daily basis we are faced with many decisions about life, time management, energy conservation, consumption of goods, caring for others, etc. We make some of these choices alone. Other issues are more societal where we join others to make the right decisions about issues that affect all of us: food inequity, the economy, health care, prison reform, human trafficking, immigration and the election of government officials.
And, let us not forget this is still Black History month. There are vital connections between acts of justice and our Lenten aspirations. Black History month honors the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history, including the civil rights movement. It also celebrates Blacks’ artistic, cultural, political and athletic achievements. Black basketball players are now wearing uniforms that say “Built on Black History.”
Honoring Black lives does not eliminate the racial tensions caused by inequities and prejudice. Actor and playwright, Anna Deavere Smith, gave the apostle Paul’s teaching (1 Peter 3:18-22) about “appealing for a clear conscience” a keen perspective in her essay about Black identity and empowerment.
She wrote: “In our current moment of division, we cannot afford to go forward without looking back. We must excavate history to assess how we learned to restore human dignity that had been ripped away by plunder and slavery. How did we get this far? Not by being nice.”
“The journey of Lent,” Pope Francis said in his Ash Wednesday homily, “is an exodus from slavery to freedom.” We still have a long way to travel. Not everyone of us is being as nice as we should be toward those who are not like us.
Justice for all is an ambitious goal. Art critic Jason Farago offers this insight from the Enlightenment painter Francisco Goya.  “Goya saw, and depicted with unrivaled vision, that error or evil can never be purged entirely, not from your society, nor from your soul. A world of perfect justice will always be a mirage. Tyrants, idiots, swindlers, conspiracy theorists: They will always be with us.”
That unsettling commentary points to the momentous and imaginative story about Jesus in today’s gospel (Mark 1:12-15) who, while retreating in the desert, warded off the temptations of the devil. “Jesus invited everyone to metanoia, a conversion in which they would drop the myths that stifled their dreams and vision, freeing them to move in the future God desired for them.” 
Yielding to temptations is not helpful in this regard. In their collective history people of color offer us a model of strength, perseverance and bold action against all odds. It is a necessary foundation for pressing on, moving forward, in order to experience the peace and joy imagined by the God of all creation. 
Lent has traditionally been a season for purification, the intentional transformation of our lives. In its time, the idea of giving things up was a good one. Mostly it had to do with abstaining from whatever gave us delight in some way large or small. In reality, for many, it was an easy way to do penance.
Now, we are in a different place and period when we are challenged by the virus, home schooling, joblessness, economic constraints, and impatience. It is a good time to give up the temptation to ignore our bad habits. It is an opportune occasion to worry about those who are suffering more than we are and then to do something about it.
During Lent, like in any act of worship, we rehearse how to embrace the other, the stranger, to touch and nourish them with kindness. Lent is not an introspective occasion to improve only ourselves but also the lives of the people who are “other”, those yearning for justice. Forty days is not a long enough duration to completely correct our imperfections but it can provide a good start.
1. See “Goya: The Dreams, the Visions, the Nightmares” in The New York Times, February 11, 2021.
2. Mary McGlone, Commentary on the First Sunday of Lent, National Catholic Reporter, January 13, 2021.
3. See today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis (9:8-15) about God’s promise never to destroy us.