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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Lent provides abundant grounds for hope and realism

This week, let’s focus deeply on Jesus and offer our lives as medicine for the world

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

What medicine does the world most need these days, psychologically and spiritually, and how can we become that medicine?

This week, the prophet Ezekiel gives us a beautiful vision of a river that flows from God’s Temple in heaven — first as a trickle, then progressively ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and finally as a full-bodied river that one can only cross by swimming. The river waters trees that bear fruit every month: “Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.” Ezekiel is giving both a vision of heaven and a challenge for the people of Israel — to become those living, healing trees, drawing their strength from God. This week, he gives the same challenge to us.

This week, the Gospel of John recounts Jesus’ third sign, when He heals a man who had been ill for 38 years. The man is waiting for the healing water at the pool of Bethesda to be stirred up. But every time it is, someone else gets into it before him. Jesus, however, heals the man instantly. John’s meaning is clear: Jesus Himself is the living, healing water of God. And, as Jesus tells us, that living water can flow in us if we follow Him.

The readings for the week, then, contain a pledge and a call: we can become a healing balm for the world. I think one of the ways we can do so is to foster a combination of realism and hope.

We need to foster realism because sin is sin, and sin is at work in the world and in every human being. But realism without hope turns into cynicism, and cynicism is not the medicine the world needs right now! So, we need to foster hope as well.

Christian hope, however, is different from secular optimism. Secular optimism is rooted in the idea that things will always get better because “progress” is the law of history. When it comes to technology, that’s certainly true — technology makes constant progress! But when it comes to morality, the idea is demonstrably false. Human morality is a constant struggle. Sin doesn’t decrease across history.

The coming weeks of Lent walk us more intensely into the journey of Jesus. That journey provides abundant grounds for both hope and realism. We can be hopeful, because we know that Jesus will be victorious in the end! But we need to be realistic, too, because we know the path to victory goes through the Cross.

When we put our faith in “progress,” we tend toward optimism that’s unrealistic, or cynicism that lacks hope. Neither is the medicine the world needs right now. When we put our faith in Jesus, we can be both realistic and hopeful. That’s medicine the world needs!

As our Lenten journey deepens, and events in the world grow darker, let’s focus deeply on Jesus this coming week. If we do so, I believe we can meet Ezekiel’s challenge. We can become living trees, drawing our strength from God, combining realism and hope, and offering our lives as medicine to the world.

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