I recently did a “thought experiment” on my Facebook page. I asked the question (to my 1000+ “friends”), “What sins are you giving up for Lent?” In parentheses I added the qualification, “trick question.”
I really did not think that many people would “fall for it,” or “take the bate.” Frankly, I thought that folks would (rightly) object to such a public display of a personal, spiritual matter.
Now I won’t list for you the various answers, but suffice to say that folks chimed right in with a battery of sins, some of which you could guess.
Think with me, however, about the trials which Jesus experienced in that dessert of temptation in Matthew 4. Jesus was offered three things by the Tempter: bread, power, and health. My question for you is: are these things sinful; are these things sins?
No! These are good things! And it’s the very same for you & me this Lenten season. The things you are giving up: chocolate, beer, coffee, whatever … these are not bad things. They are not sins.
We are not called to give up sinful things for Lent; we are called to give up sinful things all the time, every day. During Lent, what we are called to “say no” to is good things: chocolate, beer, bread, power, health. But the question remains, “Why?” Why should we say “no” to these things if they are so good?
And the answer is the same for us as it was for Jesus. God wants us to have all of these things in abundance: chocolate, beer, bread, power, health … but he wants to give them to us as gifts, not as things grasped. And so you see, we’re not actually saying “no” to them; we are saying “not yet.”
See, all of these things being offered to Jesus by Satan … in each case, the “carrot” being dangled before Jesus was something which was already his by God’s promise.
When the devil offers bread to the famished Jesus, imagine what was running through Jesus’ mind. “Hmmm … what would a kingdom based on feeding miracles look like? A ministry of providing bread out of nothing could blaze a trail right to the king’s throne, with throngs of followers supporting me. Then I could finally restore the fortunes of Israel and God’s people.” See, Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to the Kingdom. But Jesus said “no.” By faith & the HS – the very same resources you & I have, by the way – Jesus determined not to grasp his kingship, but to wait for it as a gift.
Jesus understood “the logic of the gift” — that God was always going to give him the bread, the power, the health anyway … so why grasp after it? Why do what Adam did in the garden? Better to have a little patience and humility now, and then receive all good things as a free gift from the giver of all good things.
By saying no to chocolate (or whatever) in Lent I am not really saying no to chocolate. I am saying “not now” to chocolate. And by saying “not now” to chocolate, I am saying “yes” to God, and I am waiting on his good gifts.
Fr. Matt Boulter is a priest in the Diocese of Texas at Tyler at Christ Church, Tyler and a PhD student at the University of Dallas. He also blogs at religiocity.