Communicating isn’t easy. Before the Olympics a Russian writer wrote an article in one the papers about how hard it is for Russians and Americans to understand each other. She gave as an example the simple phrase “How are you?” If you ask an American “How are you?” the answer might be “I’m great,” “Wonderful,” the writer said. But if you ask a Russian “How are you?” you’ll likely get a litany of complaints about health, the government, the neighbors, and everything else that’s going wrong.
I was with some of priests the other day, one is from Ireland the other from Argentina. If you ask the Irish priest “How are you?” his answer usually is “Not too bad.” That seems to be somewhere between the American and the Russian. The Argentinian priest told me that a friend of his was flying to America on an American carrier and he had a bad accident and had to cancel his flight. He called for a refund for his ticket, but was told it was a “non cancellation” ticket. You’re out of luck. After realizing he was getting nowhere his friend said: “OK, Goodbye.” The American agent on the line said. “Goodbye. And have a wonderful day!”
If human communication can be difficult, so is our communication with God. For the last few Sundays we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-8. Jesus goes up a mountain and calls his disciples to himself and begins to teach them. He calls them “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” The Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Jesus’ teaching, and what he teaches can bring flavor and light to our world.
Jesus’ words are not always easy to understand, however. So much of the Sermon on the Mount sounds beautiful, but we find ourselves asking What do you mean by that? What do you mean when you say “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, what you will wear?” I have to pay bills, keep my job, take care of my family. I worry about them. Is that bad? What do you mean when you say, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek… give someone your cloak…give to everyone who asks. Go the extra mile.”
The Lenten season begins this week. It’s a time to turn to God and ask what’s he saying to us and to our world? Let’s go up the mountain and listen to him.
Lent is a time to imitate the way God acts. From the mountain where he taught Jesus came down and cured a leper, according to Matthew’s Gospel. His miracles of healing and kindness reveal a God who heals and comes to the aid of the poor. Lent’s a time to imitate God’s way of acting through acts of kindness towards those in need.
Lent is a time to see how God acts towards us. He ascends another mountain at the end of Lent and dies for us. That vivid sign is something we need to look at again and again. What are you saying to me and to the world? Do you really love us that much?