This year our Lenten journey through the wilderness is not one that we walk alone. The persons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospel of John on the Sundays in Lent are our traveling companions. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Mary, Martha, even Lazarus, all have a place on our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. From Sunday to Sunday while each of these persons experiences Jesus in individual ways, collectively they reveal to us the fullness of who we are as well as our total emptiness before Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, the individuals who encounter Jesus each experience him in ways that transcend his or her understanding. Jesus calls upon each person to come to know him in ways that go beyond what he or she already knows. Jesus appeals to their senses, to the expansive ways that humans know, through sight, sound, taste, touch and smell to reveal to all of us how little we are aware of the mysteries of God. First, Jesus challenges Nicodemus to discover rebirth in the Spirit by listening to the sound of the wind. Next, Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to drink in new life through the taste of living water. Jesus then restores the sight of a man born blind and in so doing exposes the blindness of people who see. Finally, Jesus uses the stench of Lazarus’ decaying body to demonstrate to Mary and Martha that even death is not death before God. By bombarding our senses in Lent, Jesus lays bare our ignorance, how easily we are dulled, how little we understand.
Frederick Buechner once wrote, “To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens.” In this season of Lent, I believe that we are being given the opportunity to repent by allowing encounter with Jesus to happen to us. We are being invited to experience God like our traveling companions in ways that are beyond what we already know. We are being summoned to “come to our senses,” to hear, taste, see, and smell anew the mysteries of God.
In an article entitled, “Lent: The Undiscovered Country,” Penelope Mark-Stuart writes, “I believe we frequently fail to appreciate and appropriate the healing gifts of Lent because we are so blissfully unaware we even need them. The false gods of today do an excellent job keeping us distracted from our woundedness. ‘Eat! Drink! Work! Party! Shop!’ they tell us, and the painful, unhealthy, diseased areas of our lives are kept comfortably anesthetized. But when we venture into the wilderness, to a place and time free of distractions, we can come to know that the diversion these gods offer us is, in fact, bondage.” This Lent in our weekly encounters with Jesus may we offer to him the fullness of ourselves, all of our senses, that we might be filled by him, transformed, set free.
(Originally published Sunday, February 24, 2008)