What Can Mary Teach Us About Lent and Repentance?
Mary was free from sin and the mother of God! She had no need to repent. Or did she?
What does church remind us about on Ash Wednesday?
The basic message of Jesus! Jesus’ “stump speech,” the message he repeated over and over in so many contexts, was simple:
Believe the Good News!
But what does repent really mean? The root of the word used in the scriptures means, “change your way of thinking.” It has different nuances according to context. However, it basically means change your way of thinking and behavior!
On Ash Wednesday we are told two things…
1. “Repent” (change your way of thinking)
What should we change our way of thinking about? Of course, sin!
But … more radically… change your way of thinking about God.
We need to change our way of thinking from placating or manipulating an angry old man or a powerful earthly ruler.
This is a challenge because without realizing it, so many live in fear of God’s punishments or approach God as a kind of divine vending machine… if we have enough coins (say the right prayers) God will do what we want.
Change your way of thinking to becoming aware of a God whose love is greater than any love we have ever known, whether from a mother or father, husband or wife.
The Good news Jesus brings is that we don’t have to earn God’s love. We are just called to be aware of God’s love for us and love others the way God loves them.
We are called to wake up to something that is always there but not seen.
In some ways it is like waking up to the fact that your children are no longer children. They are your adult children. You are now in a different relationship with them.
2. “Believe the good news” (live according to this new way of thinking about God.)
If we wake up to the good news that the love God has for us is all around us, then we want to tell the good news about how we are loved by loving others as God loves us. And so we live according to this new way of thinking.
Isn’t that what Jesus did? He respected us enough to become one of us… and show us not only what it means to be aware of being loved, but also how to become evangelists and tell that good news to others.
Jesus came to wake us up to the fact and to the implications that we are children of God, and sisters and brothers to one another.
Now that contains a radical change! Changing the way we think, especially about what we believe, is difficult. Just ask any political candidate about how difficult it is to change people’s mind!
Mary spent her life pondering and changing her way of thinking.
Let’s step back and think of how many times Mary had to change her way of thinking.
We forget that she was one of us, even if she was the mother of Jesus.
We forget that before the Annunciation she held the same strong and biblically rooted beliefs in the kind of messiah that the vast majority of her relatives held. The messiah was going to free them from political oppression. They did not understand the “suffering servant.”
Let’s look at her life from this perspective of change.
After the Annunciation she was called to wake up to a presence of God, not in the Holy of Holies in the temple area, where only selected priests got to enter a couple of times a year. Now God would be present in her own body! She never saw that coming!
During the hidden life of Jesus, she was called to wake up to her special role as mother and teacher of the word made flesh. She never saw that coming either!
When she panicked at not finding Jesus in the caravan but teaching in the temple, she was challenging to take up to a new phase of parenting when children grow up and begin to move out. (I wonder what she learned from Jesus as he was growing. But that is food for another meditation.)
During his public ministry, she may have sensed that his teachings were different from the Messiah figure she read about in the scripture. (I wonder whether she had a mother’s instinct that all was not going to end well by their standards.)
During the roller coaster of Holy Week she came face to face with the fact that Jesus did not act like the messianic deliverer from oppression. He was put to death by the oppressors!
The resurrection brought with it a more profound, “How can this be?” He walks among us again after death.
With his Ascension into heaven she was challenged to new and even deeper relationship with Him. He lives and walks among us in a new way: In the person of each of God’s children. (We see that challenge lived out in the words to Saul, “Why do you persecute me?”)
Only after the Assumption did she realize how different God was from what she expected.
So what can Mary teach us about Lent.
She is the model of someone who changes her way of thinking about God, not just at the Annunciation, but throughout her entire life.
She is the model for responding to the Good News that Jesus loved her.
Can I live the implications of the Good News that God gives me love freely and calls on me to love others the same as he does me?
Examination of conscience about repent and believe.
- What part do I not understand of, “Whatever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers you do to me?”
- Do I need to expand my view of where I encounter God?
- What part of “Do this in memory of me… wash one another’s feet”… do I not understand? And then change my way of thinking.