Lent originated in the early Church as a season for the preparation of those desiring baptism. From early times the account of the history of salvation played an important part in the preparation for baptism. Through our baptism we embraced the new and eternal covenant with God brought into being by Christ’s death and resurrection. Ours is not the only covenant God made with man. The covenants of the Old Testament (Old Covenant) are a great help in understanding what God has done for us in His New Covenant. Consequently, in her preparation for Easter, the Church remembers the covenants of the Old Testament to remind us of the stages of God’s plan for our redemption and also to instruct those to be baptized.
Lent has always been a teaching season, a time to reflect on the mighty acts of God in the history of the world, on the covenant between God and His children, and on the role of our older brother Jesus in the story of salvation. Lent might be called a “primer course in the Christian faith.”
The epistle readings for Lent, unlike those of many other times of the year, do form a unity with the other two readings as we go through an annual “telling of the covenant story.”
Gospel – Luke 6:17, 20-26
Last week we heard Simon’s call to be a follower of Jesus; with all the implications of being a follower which, in Luke’s gospel is absolute renouncement. Simon, James and John left everything on the seashore to follow Jesus.
After recruiting Simon, James and John, Jesus continued His ministry in Galilee: healing a leper and a paralytic, enraging the Pharisees and scribes by forgiving the person’s sins – something only God can do. He then recruited Levi (Matthew), the tax collector, as a follower; further arousing the ire of the Pharisees and scribes by socializing with “sinners.” To this Jesus responded “It is not the healthy who needs a doctor, but the sick.” The Pharisees then questioned why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast and pray as did their own disciples as well as those of John the Baptist. They also observed the disciples gathering wheat to eat on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees and scribes were now looking for a reason to accuse Jesus and observed Him heal a man with a withered hand; again on the Sabbath. Work on the Sabbath is forbidden and certainly gathering wheat and healing are forms of work.
Jesus then went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles: Simon, his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot. He then came down the mountain with them and delivered the sermon on the plain which is our reading for today.
The parallel gospel to this time period is Matthew 5 through 7 which is called the Sermon on the Mount. This portion of the sermon is called the “beatitudes (blessings) and curses.”
1st Reading – Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Our Old Testament reading recalls the ancient creed of Israel. When we hear this creed, notice that it is a recalling of how God has acted for His people. Our belief comes from our story, our history – which is the history of the Jewish people of the Old Testament as well as the Christians of the New. We believe as Christians because it is through recalling our history we become sensitive to how God has acted and is now acting in our lives and in the lives of all His children. In other words, our belief in God comes from recalling the story of God’s saving acts. This belief leads to the statement in our creed “I believe.” From such a statement comes in turn the willingness to make our covenant with this God who is so active in our history. “I will be your instrument of history-making in your world. I will judge my actions by my belief that you are a just and loving God who calls all creation into wholeness and oneness with you.” “I will do whatever you tell me.” “You are my God (my Father) and I am one of your people (your child).
2nd Reading – Romans 10:8-13
Just as in our first reading we heard the ancient creed of Israel, in this second reading we hear the confession of faith of the believers of Christ.