The lenten scripture readings call us to follow Jesus from his baptism by John in the Jordan River to his resurrection in Jerusalem after he died on the cross. On the 1st Sunday of Lent we go to the Jordan River where Jesus is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days after his baptism. Our journey with Jesus begins in a desert.
The weekday gospels for the first three weeks of lent bring us to Galilee where Jesus begins his ministry. They’re mostly from Matthew, the early church’s favorite gospel for teaching about him. Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of this gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.”
Lent invites us to make that same confession.
The readings from Matthew take us to the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus speaks “the words of everlasting life.” Be faithful to prayer, the Lord says , for you gain wisdom there. ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent) Love your neighbor, even your enemies and “the least,” whom we can tend to overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)
But can we possibly love that way? we ask. The love Jesus asks for on the mountain is so lofty and challenging. There’s no watering down the challenge, however. Far from making us comfortable, Lent sets our sights on loving more. It calls for our best; the bar is higher than we like.
Yet, look at the reading for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday; who does Jesus call to be his disciples? Matthew the tax collector and people like him–not very good keepers of the law. Are we outsiders and sinners like them? Welcome to the lenten season where the Lord calls us as he called them.
Matthew’s gospel leads us from the Mount of the Beatitudes to Jerusalem, to the Mount of Calvary. Like most sacred writers, Matthew likes mountains. You see the distance more clearly from them. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to glimpse the glory found ahead. By the 4th week of Lent, we arrive in the Holy City, Jerusalem, and then most of the weekday lenten gospels will be from John. I’ll say something about them when we get there.
You can follow the lenten readings online here.