The gospels, along with other readings in our lenten Masses, offer a grace to those who follow them day by day. Take an overall look. You’ll notice the frequency of Matthew’s gospel during the first three weeks, beginning with Ash Wednesday. As the 4th week of lent begins, John’s gospel provides most of the weekday readings.
Matthew’s gospel was a favorite of the early church for teaching and catechesis. “The confession by Peter at Caesaria Philippi along with Jesus’ promise for his church, is the midpoint and highpoint of the gospel,” writes Rudolph Schnackenburg, and in this gospel Jesus, “the Christ and Son of the Living God” speaks to his disciples “ words of everlasting life.” Now he’s speaking to us.
We shouldn’t forget the gospel’s author is Matthew the tax collector, as the gospel for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us; so you might say that Jesus wants to speak to people like Matthew and his friends, not very observant keepers of the law, but outsiders and sinners. If you identify with them, welcome to the lenten season.
Jesus teaches us how to pray and how to think and live in this world. A number of the gospels early in lent treat of prayer. ( tuesday and thursday, 1st week) Besides talking to God, we have to live with one another. On monday of the 1st week, Jesus issues a powerful warning in Matthew’s gospel about neglecting “the least,” and in the readings for friday and saturday of the 1st week, he tells us to love others, even our enemies.
The love Jesus calls for is not just acceptable or normal or even good; it’s Godlike. Can any of us love like God? But there’s no watering down his challenging, radical words that are addressed, not to a few, but to us all.
Lent’s not meant to make us comfortable; it sets our sights on loving more, but it sets the bar higher than we like. Like the Olympic games, lent calls for our best, and more. A bigger prize than a gold medal is at stake.