A reflection on the readings for First Sunday of Lent:Genesis 2:15 - 3:21; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-21; Matthew 4:1-11 by Janine Goodwin, M.S. Ed., M.A.
All people and all places matter, and yet there are some that are closer to our hearts because our lives are entwined with them. I am a native of the Pacific Rim, an Oregonian by birth and by choice, and I have been watching the coverage of natural disasters around the Ring of Fire with a sense of wordless prayer since the Christchurch earthquake of February 22. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have intensified that prayer and that sense that the ground can always shift beneath us; no place is safe, no possession is secure.
This frightens me less than it used to. I don’t know whether that is spiritual growth or just general fatigue combined with the increasing realization of mortality. I do know that the pictures and the stories of present disaster, the evacuations of places I know, and the view of the fault-block mountains near my home all seem to ask the question:
What matters most?
It is a very Lenten question.
What matters most to almost all the people in the disaster zone is not just their survival, but the survival of those they love. A woman carries a child through rubble. A man wades through floodwater holding on to his child with one hand and a cat carrier with the other. In the cruelest of ironies, a woman is killed because she ran back into a building to get her cell phone so that she can call her family and find out whether they are safe. People call across oceans to say they are trapped and dying and to say goodbye, to hear a beloved voice one more time. Strangers risk their lives to help others without even asking what is important to them. Rescuers converge from around the world to hunt through rubble until the survivors are found, and dedicated workers sift ashes looking for the remains of those who could not be saved. A few lost souls who think material things matter most, despite the evidence all around them, loot ruined stores.
Improbable escapes are called miraculous, and perhaps they are, but I cannot ask why one person is saved when another dies or believe God is choosing to “take” those who die. I believe in a God who is with us whether we live or die, whether we believe or not, whether we took the step that led to death or life with divine guidance or by simple chance, whether we have a chance at all. I believe in a God whose love transcends death and a God who weeps with us as Jesus did, not a puppet-master God, not a cosmic child building and destroying and choosing which toys will die.
I see that theme everywhere these days, so it is understandable that I see it in these scriptures. Relationship with God matters more than total freedom to eat any fruit (though I do wish for a version of the myth in which the first humans ask God why it is so important to obey the prohibition). Paul speaks of a God who wants to be in relationship with us no matter what we’ve done, and chooses to become one of us. And Jesus, in the Gospel, rejects every attempt to turn him aside from the most important thing, his relationship with God and the task he is called to do.
I want to know what matters most and base my life on it now. It won’t save me from anything; life is not safe and faith is not about guarantees of anything but God's presence no matter what. If I know what matters to me, if I spend this Lent listening for the stern yet joyful grace that refuses all distractions, I will have lived, no matter how I die.
What matters most to you? What would you care about if no property, no job, no home were left to you? What will you do, this Lent, to make sure you put first what matters most?