Lent is an attitude of honesty and humility. But Lent is also an attitude of relief and joy, knowing that our sins have been forgiven, that we have the chance as Pope Francis said, to get back on track and wipe our slate clean. These next weeks of Lent are a time for us to look deep into our hearts, to think about our lives and how we have been living them. If people want to temporarily give up certain things for Lent as a sign of love for God, that’s fine. But what Christ is really concerned about is what’s in our hearts.
What is Lent all about?
We find the answer as we focus on a story Jesus tells about two opposite people. One said: “There’s nothing wrong with me.” One said: “There’s everything wrong with me.” One of them represents what Lent isn’t and one of them represents what Lent is.
“Two men” Jesus said “went up to the temple to pray—a Pharisee and a tax collector.” Remember, the Pharisees were the people who lived good, clean lives. The tax collectors were people who swindled others out of their money. Both of them came to church and went to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evil-doers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I earn.”
You could sum up his prayer this way: I thank you, God, that there’s nothing wrong with me.
The tax collector had been stealing money from people his whole life—ruining the lives of others so that he could live it up. He knew that his whole life had been a disaster.
Jesus says that “the tax collector stood at a distance”—he wouldn’t even walk up to the front of the temple. “He wouldn’t even look up to Heaven”—he was so ashamed of his sin—”but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
His prayer was the opposite of the Pharisee’s. You could sum it up as: God, there’s everything wrong with me. Help me.
Jesus tells us that Lent is a time of self-denial, a time to give up something. But Jesus isn’t concerned with you giving up chocolate or not listening to your favourite song; he’s concerned with what’s going on in your heart. Lent is that man who stood in the back of the temple, looked down at the ground and prayed. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Lent is a time for us to be like that man, to give up our sinful habits, our sinful attitudes, to stand before God and to ask him to forgive us, to wash our sins away, and to empower us to turn away from our sinful past and to live new lives that are dedicated to God and to helping and loving others, especially those who genuinely need our help and care.
Thought for the week
As your thought for the week, try doing something good to make things better for yourself and those in genuine need.