We are in this together – that’s what today’s readings make clear. Just as we sin together, so we will be saved together. No one enters the kingdom of heaven on his or her own. Our individual choices and actions matter but so do the communities we build.
The story of Jesus’ forty days spent in the desert underscores the ambiguity of human sociality. Sometimes, we need to go away from our friends and social networks to reflect on our own. But notice the character of Jesus’ second temptation. The Devil, supreme artist of the deal, offers Jesus the chance to re-enter the world as a solitary force, ruling over it rather than simply living within it. The Devil flatters Jesus, telling him he can go it alone, fixing the world on his own.
But Jesus ultimately rejects the Devil’s proposal. He forfeits executive power for community, choosing to renew Israel through the practice of table fellowship. Jesus rebukes the Devil’s approach to relationships throughout his ministry. Rather than flattering his disciples, Jesus exhorts, inspires, challenges, and cares for them. Sometimes he even speaks to them quite harshly. But he does not make deals with them. Especially on the cross, Jesus gives his life freely and unconditionally and regardless of whether, or what, he gets in return.
During Lent, we have the time to step back from the world so that we can inhabit it more fully. We have the chance to evaluate the character of our relationships and communities by asking: do we open ourselves up to others as Jesus did? Do we seek our own self-interest at the expense of the common good? Do we shirk responsibility for social sins or do we strive to make ourselves more accountable for them? Do we seek power over others or do we do whatever it takes to eat alongside them? Do we make deals or build community?
Theology and Religious Studies