Ash Wednesday, March 5, marks the beginning of Lent. Stretching before us is a period of 40 days towards Easter. We are urged to use this time to fast, to commit more time than usual to praying and studying the Bible, to consider some form of self-denial, to increase our charitable giving, and most important of all, to use the time for self-examination and repentance.
The 40 days of Lent equate to the time that Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his three-year ministry. Some think that those 40 days are reflecting the 40 years of wandering that Moses and the people of Israel spent journeying from Egypt to the Promised Land. They used that time to increase their understanding of God and to change their ways to be closer to God’s requirements.
The desert experience of Jesus is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. All three show us the humanity of Jesus as he is driven to his wits end by the conditions of his Spirit-imposed experience. But the experience teaches him that it is when he is at his weakest that he is tempted.
Jesus’ response to the three temptations is always the same; he quotes a passage of scripture. In this way, Jesus strengthens himself by ensuring he is well connected to God. In this way, Jesus admits his vulnerability and calls on God to strengthen him.
When Jesus recognises his own weakness and throws himself on God’s care, then Jesus becomes strong enough to resist the temptation.
Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, recognises one of his own weaknesses, some sort of physical ailment, and God’s response to his prayer is: “My grace is all you need, for my power is strongest when you are weak”. In other words, Paul gains the strength of God by admitting his own weakness.
As we use the time of Lent to prepare ourselves for Easter, we could do worse than to recognise how sometimes our own pride prevents us from displaying our real weakness and thus preventing God, with all his power, to make us as strong as we can ever need to be. As always, the Kingdom of God turns things upside down. While the world loves strength, we need to recognise we draw closer to God in our weakness, if only we can be honest with ourselves.
After all, we couldn’t find a more perfect example of strength from weakness than the Easter story.
(Rev Rob Anning, Superintendent Minister of the Banbury Methodist Circuit)