7th Sunday OT 2012:
In today's first reading we hear something quite interesting: forget the events of the past, behold I am doing something new. This would have sounded quite radical at the time it was first spoken. As best we can tell, this passage was first written at the time of the Babylonian exile. Remember that the people were forcibly removed from their homeland, and Jerusalem was in ashes. This was the darkest period of the people's existence. So, the prophet is here to give them a message of hope. But, he tells them to forget the past. The past to which the prophet refers would have been the Exodus, when God saved his people from slavery in Egypt. It would have been impossible for a Jew during the time of the Exile to forget about the Exodus, any more than we would forget about the Resurrection. The Exodus made them who they were. Just as the Resurrection is the historical event that causes Christianity, so the Exodus was the historical event that made the nation of Israel.
But, God says I am doing something new! Christianity and Judaism are historical religions. We do not base our faith on some enlightened notions of good or evil. We did not invent our religion. Rather, we are rooted in time. We believe in a person, Jesus Christ. We believe that he rose from the dead. We believe that he sent his disciples into the world to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Ours is a concrete, historical faith. It is rooted in time, in real events. But, there can be a pitfall in a religious faith like ours. Because we base our faith on the real person of Jesus, who did real things many years ago, it is easy for us to let our faith seem distant and remote. We believe in Jesus, but he lived a long time ago. All the sudden our faith, based in concrete reality, can seem like a story in a book. Our faith is historical, but it is not simply stuck in the past. Behold, I am doing something new. In fact, God did something new. He brought his people out of exile and back into Jerusalem. So while their faith was certainly based on the action of God in the time of the Exodus, God asked them to be ready for his new action in their lives. The same is true for us as well.
Think about the gospel passage today. It is easy to think of it simply as a story set in the past. But, Christ wants to make this happen even today. We hear of healing and of forgiveness. Christ certainly continues to bring us healing and forgiveness. Put yourself in this story, allow it to come alive for you. Jesus did not just want to bring healing and forgiveness 2000 years ago, but he continues he be present to us throughout history. Jesus wants to do something new.
I think this is a great way to think about Lent. As you all know Lent starts on Wednesday. And while it is certainly important to celebrate one of my personal favorites (Fat Tuesday), it is not too early to begin thinking about our commitment to Lent. Lent is a time of renewal, a time of preparation. We spend 40 days preparing to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection. I think Lent is a particularly beautiful way to be sure that the Resurrection is not simply an event in the past. Every year we put ourselves through the desert of Lent so as to celebrate the springtime of Easter. God wants to do something new in your life this year. The people in today's Gospel had to tear through the roof to get to Jesus in order to find healing and forgiveness. I think this is a good way to think about our Lenten activities of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, because they allow Christ into our lives. Lent is a time to open up to Christ, for behold, he wants to do something new our lives.