"Behold we go up to Jerusalem." (Luke 18.31)
In the Gospel for today Jesus announces his final journey to Jerusalem:
"Behold, we go up to Jerusalem," he says, "and all things that are written
by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished." He must
die and rise again. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem." That is what Lent
is all about: we go up with him to Jerusalem, to gaze upon and share in
his passion, to be healed and transformed by that vision of the divine
Perhaps you remember that peculiar story in the Book of Numbers, in
which the Lord commands Moses to make a brazen serpent and set it up on
a pole; "and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent
and live." (Numbers 21.9) According to St. John's Gospel, Jesus took that
image to himself: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even
so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him might
have eternal life." (John 3.14) The Son of Man is to be lifted up on the
cross. We are to gaze upon his passion, and in that vision of sacrificial
love, our wounded souls are to find healing and new life.
"And the disciples understood none of these things," says today's Gospel.
They, and also we ourselves, perhaps, are like that man at Jericho. We
sit by the wayside begging, and we can't see what's going on here, what
it's all about. "They told him that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by." The
reason of this journey, the meaning of Jesus and his sacrifice, is perhaps
not very clear to us. To journey with him is to journey in faith: "Lord,
that I may receive my sight." Vision is the reward of faith.
Our journey to Jerusalem, our Lent, is to be a journey into light, a
journey into understanding the mystery of divine love in the passion of
Christ. Can the lessons and the disciplines of Lent really do that for
us? Certainly, that seems far-fetched, but then, that is the way of faith.
God gives much in return for little; he gives all in return for nothing.
All in return for nothing: that is the divine charity which, as St. Paul
explains in today's Epistle, is to be the very essence of our life as Christians.
Faith is an excellent thing, no doubt, and so is hope, but they are only
a beginning. In heaven there is no faith; in heaven there is no hope, because
heaven is the knowledge and possession of that eternal good, towards which
faith and hope can only aim. In heaven there is only charity, the bond
of love which unites lover and beloved. Without that love, all our powers
are worthless: "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal," or noisy nonsense.
With the best gift of charity, we have eternal life. "For what shall separate
us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8.35).
Therefore our journey of Lent is not just a journey of faith and hope,
but a journey of love, a journey whereby we become more firm in that bond
of love which unites us to God. It is a journey whereby we grow up in love.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child," says St. Paul. We are like children
who babble aimlessly. Lent is a time to grow up and put away childish things.
The disciplines of Lent are a serious matter, being fundamentally a
matter of the nourishment of our childish souls. I suppose that no age
has ever been so diet-conscious as our own. Almost everyone looks at the
package to see what noxious additives lurk within. But what thought do
we take for spiritual nutriment? Wouldn't it be a good idea to try to wean
ourselves a little bit from the poisonous sweets of self-indulgence and
worldly preoccupation? Sometimes children imagine that they could eat sweets
exclusively forever. "But when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Wouldn't we be better off with a little more time for prayer, and a little
less for empty chatter, a little more time for the Word of God and a little
less for trivial words? Habits are formed by disciplines; and the habit
of charity the habit of heaven is not formed by self-indulgence, and the
endless pursuit of worldly ends. "Where your treasure is, there will your
heart be also." (Matthew 6:21) There is one pearl of great price, and,
like the merchant in the parable, we may have to sell quite a lot to buy
Jesus bids us to go up with him to Jerusalem, and to find our treasure
there. May he open our blind eyes, and give us grace to do just that.