Our readings for mid-Lent Sunday don’t have a single theme. The first two are about choice: God choosing King David in the first and in the second St Paul’s command that we should, as he puts it, ‘Try to discover and choose what God wants of us for our lives.’ The Gospel, by contrast, is another demonstration of the saving power of Jesus prior to our attention being drawn to the amazing new deal or covenant between God and mankind which we will celebrate at Easter. We sometimes forget that the old deal or Old Covenant was seen as exclusive to the Israelites, the chosen people. The new one, proclaimed by Jesus, is open to us all.
Of course, the trouble for most of us is that modem sales techniques tend to make us suspicious of too-good-to-be-true deals. I once had one of those junk mail offers, which I expect you get frequently. “Open immediately! You have already won a prize, …”. Deals like that go straight into the bin because we know there is a catch, yet the deal which is delivered to all our front doors on Good Friday and Easter Night has no catch. It is a deal in which the cost to benefit ratio (to use the language of commerce) is very much in our favour. A deal in which someone else, Jesus on Calvary, has done the paying and which results in a prize which all of us have won and for which our own contribution is simple and manageable – and pitifully small.
Each week we have a reading from the Gospel or ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ and usually at least one other taken from Paul’s letters or other books of the New Testament. However, the term ‘New Testament’ doesn’t just refer to the text of this part of the Bible. The dictionary tells us that testament or covenant means agreement, bargain or contract. I like the term bargain in this context because it suggests getting more than our money’ s worth. Our contract with God, following on from the redemption, which we celebrate at Easter, is undoubtedly a good bargain, a good deal.
In Jesus’s day, it is clear that the huge number of religious laws had become an intolerable burden to ordinary people and he was anxious not just to ease that burden but also to ensure that future laws would be relevant and of practical use. In time, the Christian church too found itself observing obsolete laws, which no longer served a practical purpose, though fortunately the worst of these were revised some fifty years ago. What Jesus never lets us forget is that the purpose of his commands is to keep us focused on the supreme commandment which he proclaimed to be above everything else: love of God and love of neighbour.
Lent is a good time to look at ourselves and the circumstances of our lives and to relate both of them to Jesus’s invitation to take part in the new deal or bargain which is the basis of what came to be known as the Christian Church and to test these against that supreme command: love God, love your neighbour.
Sin, as someone pointed out, is a three letter word with ‘I’ in the middle. If I put myself, I in the middle of my life, making myself out to be of supreme importance then, as the word implies, I am being selfish: I am not putting God and my neighbour first.
There are only a couple of weeks now until Easter but that is still just time enough to make something of our personal Lent. I suggest that all of us could benefit from taking a little time off, alone and away from the noise and bustle of modern life and consider perhaps that one specific point: how can I reduce that tendency, that selfish instinct, to put myself at the centre, and how can I increase my concern for the things of God and the needs of others.