Lent takes us on the journey Jesus took from his baptism by John in the Jordan River to his resurrection after he was put to death on the cross in Jerusalem. On the 1st Sunday of Lent we go to the Jordan River where Jesus, after his baptism by John, is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and is tempted for 40 days.
In the following days of Lent, we go with Jesus to Galilee where he preaches to the people, performs many signs that testify to his mission and gathers disciples to follow him.
During the first three weeks of Lent, we read mostly from the Gospel of Matthew which was the favorite gospel of the early church for teaching about Jesus Christ and what he taught. In this gospel, Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of the gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.”
Lent calls us to say that too.
Matthew’s gospel in the first weeks of Lent takes us up the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus teaches us how to live and how to pray. He urges us to be faithful to prayer ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent) and to love our neighbor, even our enemies and “the least” whom we might tend to overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)
The love Matthew’s gospel asks of us is not just an acceptable or normal love; it’s a Godlike love.”Can any of us love like God?” we say. Yet, there’s no watering down the challenge; Jesus’ words are addressed to us all. Lent’s not meant to make us comfortable but to set our sights on loving more, and the bar is higher than we like. Lent calls for our best.
Yet, the gospel of Matthew, as the reading for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us, is the gospel of Matthew the tax collector. Jesus called people like Matthew and his friends–not very good keepers of the law– to be his disciples. If we consider ourselves outsiders and sinners, welcome to the lenten season.
In Matthew’s gospel, we will hear Jesus reminding us that we are on our way to Jerusalem; we are going from the Mount of the Beatitudes to the Mount of Calvary. Matthew likes mountains, like most of the sacred writers do. From a mountain you see distant things more clearly. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to get a glimpse into the glory Jesus brings.
John’s gospel provides most of the lenten weekday gospels beginning with the 4th week of Lent, when we arrive in the Holy City, Jerusalem. I’ll say something about it when we get there.