And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
The aim during the Lenten season is to identify with Jesus in the wilderness, and to follow him, in some way, through his suffering and persecution and sacrifice. The difficulty in following Jesus, of course, is that the path leads to the cross.
Nevertheless, we try—try to meditate and pray, try to give up certain comforts and pleasures to focus our attention, try to add other things to live more wisely, try to repent of consumerism and take in more of the Bible, more of our relationships, more of serving others … we press on and try.
But even in our best efforts, failure is there to greet us. Even in moments of success, failure lurks.
Six weeks is a long time to pay attention to something. Losing steam comes easily. There are moments when Lent is forgotten altogether, and thoughts begin to creep in, “Lent is just an observance. Jesus doesn’t really care if I slack here or there, does he? I don’t want to be legalistic, you know.” We drift toward the kind of carefree attitude that is not about enjoying freedom, but about indulging the flesh.
Then there are other moments – usually when feelings of guilt sink in for indulging the flesh – when more of a performance driven attitude takes over. We recommit ourselves to our goals, which is not a bad thing, but it often is not about identifying with Jesus. It becomes about our righteousness. We have to do this right.
The constant threat of these two things – license and legalism – is always present in our lives, devilishly waiting to get us off course. Neither of these produces the kind of repentance and humility that gets to the heart of Jesus. Repentance, humility, suffering, lament, and sacrifice do not come naturally. Indulgence and self-righteousness do.
Lent is not hard because we are forgetful or because six weeks is a long time. Lent is hard because we do not want to die. Lent is about death, and we tend to avoid death. But the way of Jesus leads to the cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
All of our shortcomings related to Lent are but a microcosm of our ragged and duplicitous selves. We are far more sinful than anything we are willing to admit here. Indeed, far worse than we know or could even imagine. But the grace of God in Christ Jesus is far more lovely and powerful than we have ever dreamed.
Lent is pushing us toward Easter, cultivating a longing for it deep in our hearts. Not a longing to go back to our old ways, but a longing for a Savior—one who lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.
How have you drifted into license and/or legalism during this season of Lent?
Where have feelings of guilt and/or self-righteousness crept in?
Holy God, you have opened our ears to hear your Word and our lips to proclaim your truth: open our eyes this day to see in the cross the revelation of your love; through Jesus the crucified, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, be honor and praise, now and forever. Amen.