Deacon Rob Lewis shares some thoughts on the affirming and transforming love of God.
We typically think of Lent as a time of negation, of giving up something we enjoy—perhaps a little too much.
But Scripture presents the denial that characterizes Lent not as a way of negation, but as a way of affirmation that anticipates the transformation of Easter. At Lent we don’t give up something for nothing. We give up something less for something much more.
Lent is a time for us to experience both the affirming and transforming love of God.
We pattern our 40 days of Lent after the forty days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). What drove Jesus into the wilderness was the affirmation, the divine “YES,” that he experienced at his baptism. God the Father ripped the heavens open to tell his Son that he loved him.
God the Father affirms his son before Jesus has done anything. God takes delight in Jesus’ being. He is one with his Father.
But the Bible does not speak only of Jesus’ being, but also of his becoming—not like God, because Jesus was already God—but like us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). But more than this, Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the true scandal of the incarnation and redemption. Jesus becomes sin so that we can become the righteousness of God.
The affirming love of God drove Jesus into the wilderness, where the transforming love of God enabled Jesus to ward off the temptation to perform “God like” acts.
The irony is that Satan wanted Jesus to come in the way of strength, to act more like God, and not in the way of weakness, and become like man.
I have often thought that the wilderness itself was part of the temptation, that the rugged terrain, the wild animals, the lack of food, was an environment conducive to temptation.
But the account shows it differently. It was the very harshness of the conditions that drove Jesus more deeply into that which nourished his soul, and clarified his life purpose.
Jesus did not refuse to make bread because he wanted to practice the discipline of fasting, but because his physical hunger drove him to seek deeper sustenance for his soul.
To be sure, Lent is about giving up, but it is a giving up of that which cannot satisfy for that which always fulfills.
Jesus was able to say “NO,” to the temptation because he was dwelling on the word of God, of which Jesus himself was the fulfillment. The word was about him; the word was for him; the word of his baptism, “You are my beloved Son,” the word of the Lord.
This is the deep love of Jesus, not just his love for us, but the Father’s love for him.
And it was in the wilderness, and under attack, that Jesus was transformed into our likeness and learned the way of complete dependence on his heavenly Father.
Lent is a time for us to ponder over, and wonder at, the deep love of Jesus who became like us so that we can become like him. Lent is not the way of asceticism. It is the way of love, as we dwell on the word of the Father and are transformed into the likeness of his Son, Jesus. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we would be called the children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1)