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First Sunday of Lent

Scripture Readings

These days, I have seen a quip posted numerous times on social media, in print media, and even on church sign boards. It says, “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.” It is a thought-provoking quip. On this the first Sunday of Lent, I want to focus on something similar - our personhood in relation to Jesus Christ. I have titled my homily, “Become the Best Version of Yourself!” My rationale for this title comes from today’s scripture readings. Jesus, the Son of God, entered into the desert to restore humanity to its original image. Jesus came to transform us into the best version of ourselves. What could this mean? 

Here are my three points that attempt to answer this question. 

1. First Fruits – An Invitation to Israel. The Feast of the First Fruits was a major Hebrew Feast. It was prescribed for the Israelites once they settled into the Promised Land (Deut 26:1-2). We must remember that those who had entered the Promised Land had wandered in the desert for 40 years. Those who fled Egypt has perished along the way. The generation that entered the Promised Land were wanderers. Neither did they know their parents’ former life-style (slave-builders), nor the settled life-style of the Canaanites. They had to learn to be agriculturists and shepherds. When the Israelites settled down began to prosper, it would be very easy for them to forget who they originally were, where they came from, who got them to freedom, and what the larger purpose of their lives was. The temptation would be to get carried away and make gods out of their own accomplishments like their forefathers had done. By bringing the best and the first fruits before God, Israel was being invited to acknowledge that they were nothing without God. By offering the first fruits before God, they were invited to acknowledge God as the source of all blessing. By offering the first fruits, the Israelites were invited to resist the temptation to put themselves before God. The feast of the first fruits was an invitation to Israel to become the best version of themselves. The tragedy is that Israel failed often, that they failed terribly, that often they failed intentionally. As Christians, we do not observe the feast of the first fruits. However, the expectation is the same – the gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to become the best version of ourselves. The 40 days of Lent which replicates Israel’s 40 years in the desert, is meant to help us become the best version of ourselves. 

2. Jesus – The Best Version of Ourselves. What does the best version of ourselves look like? ‘Becoming the best version of ourselves’ sounds like a good title for a self-help book, does it not? But that is not what my homily is all about. If we want to know what the best version of ourselves would look like, the only person we must look up to is Jesus. Today, particularly, we reflect on Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. The temptations that the Israelites faced in the desert and in the Promised Land are the very temptations that Jesus faced in the desert. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. For 40 days and beyond, Jesus refused to put himself above God’s will; for forty days and beyond, Jesus refused to be mastered by his base instincts, rather, found the deeper calling of his humanity; for forty days and beyond, Jesus refused to be lured by power, wealth, fame, glory, and majesty. We have forty days and beyond. We have a life-time. We must become like Jesus. To become like Jesus is to become the best version of ourselves. 

3. Lent 2019 - Becoming More Like Christ. This Lent, I am inviting all of us to look beyond look beyond penitence. I am inviting us to reflect on the kind of persons we are becoming. I am inviting us to focus on the permanent effect of penitence – our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – on our character. I am inviting us to focus on Jesus – Jesus who invites us to transform ourselves into the best version of ourselves by imitating Him. I am inviting us to choose just one area in our lives where we choose to become more like Jesus. It could be Jesus’ obedience to God’s will; it could be Jesus universal love for all of humanity; it could be Jesus mercy, compassion, and striving for peace; it could be Jesus’ acceptance of the weak, the poor, and those on the periphery; it could be Jesus’ spirit of self-sacrifice, service, and unwillingness to condemn. It could be Jesus’ respect for all life – the children who came to him as well as the criminal on the cross; it could be the commitment to be clean of heart in thought, word, and action; it could be our commitment to be peace makers like Jesus; it could be our refusal, like Jesus,  to be mastered by power, wealth, our passions, and the desire for self-glorification. May this Lent not simply pass us by. May this Lent make us the best version of ourselves. May this Lent make us more like Christ.

- Fr. Satish Joseph