Life-changing transformations don’t happen easily. They require interior fortitude and determination, courage, persistence and more - an interior change of heart and mind. In the Scriptures this is called “Metanoia.”
So we again enter into the invitation and the challenge of Lent well aware that we have been asked to commit our lives fully to the coming reign of God. “Metanoia” and “Repentance” are not to be simple cosmetic or superficial changes. Repentance isn’t just for a part of the year. It is a full-time, on-going commitment to change. Metanoia pushes us to turn away from whatever distracts us from God and to turn to the embrace of the One who is infinite love.
Unlike other Gospel accounts for the first Sunday in Lent, Mark is very short on the details of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Still all the vital elements are there - the duration, the temptation, the threat of violence, and the sustaining care God provides. But the point of this narrative is not really the temptation scene. It’s what happens next that is most important.
When John was arrested and put into prison, it was Jesus who continued to preach the Good News. But there was a big difference between the two.
John's preaching began with "Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand." His was a call to repentance - a warning - a call to change our ways because something big and wonderful was soon coming.
The message of Jesus was "Rejoice! The Kingdom of God is here!" His was an invitation - a call to experience the presence of the Father in our every moment, our every breath, in the "now" of our every encounter by repentance and metanoia.
If this then is the goal, Mark has already indicated how we can make the changes we must. The Gospel for Ash Wednesday gives us the blueprint. Here, Mark gives us the threefold method of achieving Metanoia: Prayer, Fasting and Giving Alms.
Lent is the graced time when we will receive the help we need to respond and to make a turn in our lives towards God. This doesn’t mean big changes are easy or accomplished in a short period of time. Metanoia means we will have to dedicate our lives to transformation. In truth it will never be a completed process but if we listen to Jesus today we need to begin. And then begin again and again, becoming followers of Christ. The time is now - every now!
Lent reminds us of our own temptations. It reminds us of our weakness, our sins, and our failures. It reminds of everything that tarnishes or warps Christ's image, whether in the individual or in the community.
More importantly, however, it reminds that God really doesn't care about these things. He only cares about us, and He loves us in spite of ourselves. Our journey of faith is not without suffering nor death. And within our lived experiences there is a sacred Presence and Love which constantly sustains us.
When Jesus left the desert he had a new identity. People saw him as one proclaiming the nearness and love of God in his giving sight to the blind, freedom to prisoners and healing to the sick. That is our job description as well.
During Lent we can take a step back from the familiar things we rely on to discover that the desert we are in now is also a holy place, where the Spirit is present. Tending to the Spirit’s prompting we become more the people we are called to be - God’s holy people.
The time is now for us to keep our priorities in focus, to look clearly at our lives and the choices we make and to explore what they reveal about who we are and where we are going. It is time to reclaim our true self, to renew our sense of purpose, to "repent" and change our hearts.
The time is now to trust that the Spirit who accompanied Jesus in the desert will renew each one of us as a Spirit-driven disciple of the Lord in whatever desert challenges and temptation we face.