A Lenten Message
Written by Neil Simon
As we start this new Lenten season, I would like to share (and expand) the message that I give to my Sunday School students every year:
The Great Lent is a journey that our Church forefathers have laid out for us; one based on liturgical precedence. If we examine the Bible, we would find three instances in which we see fasts for 40 days: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. In each case, we see that the fast was a preparation for the Revelation of God. For Moses, his fast led to the reception of the Ten Commandments (Ex 34:28). For Elijah, his fast resulted in an audience with Yahweh (1 Kings 19:8). For Jesus, his fast led to the beginning of his Ministry. For us, the Great Lent leads to Easter, the ultimate Revelation of God; Jesus Christ's victory over sin and death through his Resurrection.
As we begin our journey for the next 40 days, I would like to emphasize two words: Faith and Transformation. Beyond being the first miracle of Jesus as he began his ministry, it is altogether appropriate that the Church has selected the Wedding in Cana as the Gospel reading to begin the Great Lent.
Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited to a wedding. When St. Mary realized that the party had ran out of wine, she informed Jesus, who responded that his hour had not yet come. Regardless, St. Mary informed the servants to do whatever Jesus said. As we all know, Jesus proceeded to turn water into wine. I have heard a number of sermons that point to this episode as a display of a child’s obedience to his mother. While this is certainly true, I would also argue that we see the trust of a mother in her child. It was the unwavering faith of St. Mary in her son that motivated her to instruct the servants, despite Jesus’ initial response. Studying the miracle itself, it is fairly straightforward to see the Transformation that took place. Jesus took something common, something rather ordinary and transformed it into something special, something extremely extraordinary.
If you were to look at the Webster dictionary, you would find faith defined as “strong belief or trust in something or someone.” However, when I teach my students, I like to provide the following definition for faith: “Belief in the Irrational.” As we listen to the Gospel readings each week, we see the increasingly irrational things that are being requested of Jesus: to heal a leper, to heal a lame man, to heal a blind man, and to even raise the dead. However, it was the resolute faith of a mother, the determined faith of a man’s friends, or the dogged faith of a Canaanite woman that ultimately resulted in transformations beyond our imagination. An outcast of society that suffered from a dreaded skin disease was no long afflicted. A man that had been saddled to his bed was able to pick up his mattress and walk away. A man that had been blind since birth was given sight.
It is right that each and every one of us should follow the dietary restrictions that the Church has requested of us during this Lenten season. However, if all we do is focus on the foods that we cannot eat, we lose the purpose of the Great Lent. This is a tremendous journey that we are all partaking, one in which we seek to strengthen our faith in the One Triune God and one where we hope to transform into the children of God.