I now understand Fat Tuesday. I’m choosing to give up sweets for Lent, so I have spent this past week consuming all those things I wouldn’t be eating later. (I hate to see perfectly good ice cream, cookies and coated pretzels go to waste.) NOW, three pounds later, I understand the meaning of Fat Tuesday! Unfortunately for me….Fat Tuesday seems to be “extending” itself to Thursday and beyond. Ash Wednesday arrived just in time. Jim and I attended Ash Wednesday services together, and made our spiritual commitments for these days that will lead to Easter Sunday. I can honestly say that I am looking forward to using these weeks to focus on God, listen to his word and sacrifice something I enjoy, for the One who is my joy. I hope that at the end of the Lenten season, I will have prayed more often, contemplated God at deeper levels, treated others with more thoughtfulness – and just to be honest, I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds before Craig’s wedding!
Jesus was speaking at the temple the last week of his earthly life. He was incredibly popular with the people, and incredibly unpopular with the Jewish leaders. The Pharisees and Sadducees questioned Jesus, hoping to challenge his authority and minimize his influence. Imagine the audacity of trying to “outwit” the Son of God. The Sadducees had their bacon fried and handed to them when they tried to set Jesus up in Matthew 22:23-33. (OK…bacon is probably not the right expression to use with Jewish leaders!) Nevertheless…Jesus is brilliant in his response to their question about the widow and who she would be married to in heaven. He told the Sadducees, the elite Jewish leadership, they didn’t know the Scriptures or the power of God and that is why they were asking that question. I love Jesus’ straight forward way of dealing with those men. Our world values “political correctness” but often that comes at the expense of actually being correct. I think we should commit to being straight forward when people ask us why we think Easter is about Jesus, not the bunny.
After Jesus had answered the Sadducees, the Pharisees brought this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law (Matthew 22:36)?” Jesus’ response to this question, illustrates our spiritual goal for the Lenten season, and for life beyond Easter Sunday. In fact, Jesus’ response is the reason he endured the cross that Friday. The Pharisees asked which commandment was the most important and Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).” Jesus told the Pharisees, the crowds, and you and I, that the most important thing we can do is love God – with our motivations, our thoughts, and our actions. Only then, will we be able to love others the way we are commanded. The way to truly love our neighbor, is out of the overflow of our personal relationship to God.
We give up something for Lent because God gave us Jesus. We focus on our relationship to God because it is that relationship that produces what we can do for God. What is the greatest thing you can do these next few weeks? Love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength. If you do, your “neighbor” may experience Easter in a new way as well – maybe some of them, for the first time.
I’m giving up sweets for Lent. What will you consider for your life? I pray that when I am seated at a luncheon and the dessert is looking good, I will think about Jesus instead. Suddenly, giving up sweets doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice at all!