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Judged by Love: Ash Wednesday Reflection, 2011

by on March 11, 2011

When a rich man comes to Jesus asking how to inherit eternal life, Jesus answers him with a partial quotation of the Ten Commandments. He includes the prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, lying, and also the injunction to honor one’s parents. I think it’s interesting that these are the commandments that instruct us how to treat one another.

The man asked about eternal life. Many of us think about this in terms of heaven and hell. But Jesus’ answer seems to suggest that what is important about eternal life is not where we might spend it after we die, but rather how we treat one another while we’re alive.

It’s actually not a very religious or theological answer. Lately I’ve been impressed at how often Jesus disappointed the religiously minded people of his day.

Another time they came to him frustrated that he didn’t wash his hands in the proper ceremonial way. He responded by teaching the people that it isn’t what goes into a person that makes him religiously unclean, but what comes out. He offers some examples, including the behavioral social commandments he quoted to the rich man. He also adds some underlying attitudes like greed, malice, envy, and arrogance.

Jesus seems to be concerned about two things: how we treat one another, and how we think about one another. Maybe there something here for us to pray about as we enter Lent: how we treat one another, and how we think about one another.

One time Jesus used a terrifying image to drive the point home. He said it would be better to be drowned than to mistreat another child of God. He said it would be better to engage in self-mutilation than to mistreat another child of God. Of course this passage is not to be taken literally, but it is to be taken seriously.

In light of this dire warning, Jesus calls us to judgement. He calls us to season our lives, like salt seasons a dish, with the fire of judgment. Small amounts, spread throughout our lives, one day at a time, one moment at a time, so that we avoid those things that would cause us to forfeit the kingdom of God, that would cause us to forfeit eternal life. And this is what Lent is all about.

Lent is about seasoning our lives with judgment. It is taking 40 days to treat others well, and to think well about others. It is a time of sacrificing something of ourselves, in order to make room for God’s presence in our lives. In traditional terms, it is a time of prayer, fasting, and giving alms—all so that we can enter the kingdom of God with both hands, with both feet, with both eyes, and as children of God.

For Jesus said no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they receive it as a child. How does a child receive the kingdom? First, a child must be brought; it cannot come by itself. Just so, we have to be brought to the place where the kingdom is revealed. God does this through the Spirit, through the church, and through our worship. Second, the child comes with nothing to offer. The rich man could offer his righteousness and his riches. We have to come without hope of bartering with God. God does not need anything we have to offer beyond a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Third, the child has her whole life ahead of her; she is filled with hope. The rich man probably had plans for his life, plans that depended on his riches. So when Jesus told him to receive the kingdom like a child, he could not. God calls us to come open to where God will lead us, for God calls us to come dependent and empty.

Mark tells us that Jesus loved the rich man. He loved the man who was righteous and had everything. He also loved the man who lacked one thing. Tonight, let us enter this Lenten season with renewed determination to live as God’s children. Let us come because God has brought us here. Let us come with nothing to offer beyond ourselves. Let us come, open to where God will lead us.

Let us enter the presence of God, enter the Holy of Holies, even though we will be judged there. Because the one who judges us, first loves us as children.

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