“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days...”
Mark 1: 12
In this first week of Lent, we invite you to reflect on two stories of transformative encounters from the Gospels: the story of Jesus’ baptism and the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The first story is at the heart of the readings for this first Sunday in Lent. The passage from Mark today recounts Jesus’ journey into the desert which occurs directly after his encounter with John the Baptist at the Jordan River. The second reading from 1 Peter describes how the flood and Noah’s ark prefigure the ritual of Christian baptism.
Cumulatively, the readings for this first Sunday of Lent describe the significance of Jesus’ baptism and ours. As Christians, we imitate this encounter through our own baptism, through which we are incorporated into the mission of Christ to proclaim the good news of God’s love to all people.
The second story on which we invite you to reflect is at the heart of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (“Brothers and Sisters All.”) It is the Good Samaritan parable, about two people set at odds by social norms – a Jew and a Samaritan – who encounter one another through an act of profound mercy. In his encyclical, Pope Francis uses this parable to teach us how we can live out our universal call to be “brothers and sisters all.”
The Good Samaritan parable is emblematic of the Christian baptismal mission: to reach across divisions to share the love of God through charity and justice. Pope Francis writes, “Jesus’ parable summons us to rediscover our vocation as citizens of our respective nations and of the entire world, builders of a new social bond…It speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love. We cannot be indifferent to suffering…Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering (66-68).”
Pope Francis asks a challenging question in Fratelli Tutti: whom do we most resemble in the Good Samaritan story? Do we really resemble the Samaritan? Or do we act more like the passersby who do nothing, comfortable in our own spheres?
At the heart of the Christian life is mission, the call to leave one’s place of comfort to share the gospel message. But, like Jesus, we need times “in the desert” to prepare for this mission and listen for the voice of God. We need to come to terms with our sins, personal failures that are obstacles to receiving and proclaiming the love of God.
Fr. Charlie Dittmeier of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky and a member of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, writes from Cambodia, “[Like Jesus,] we too are to be people of prayer. We too are to be formed and guided by the scriptures. We too are to take seriously our baptism. We too are to find a new way of being and a new way of offering God’s life and love in the places where we live.”
“If we take seriously our baptism as Jesus did,” Fr. Dittmeier goes on, “we can offer a new way of being in the world today. First, we must live that new way of being ourselves, changing ourselves to be the people God calls us to be, relating in ways that offer more life and love and integrity.”
Questions for Reflection:
How can you make this Lent a time of preparation to be like the Good Samaritan? Where are the spheres of comfort in your life and how can you step outside them in your Christian mission?
Lectio Divina following Pope Francis’ reflection on the Good Samaritan parable in Fratelli Tutti:
Read or listen to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) three times through, paying careful attention to the words.
Each time, picture yourself as one of the characters, such as the injured man, the passerby, or the Samaritan.
What comes to mind in doing this?
How is God speaking to you through this parable?
How can this parable offer a new way of relating to your “neighbor?”
Make time to reach out to one person outside your comfort zone this week, in whatever pandemic-safe way you can manage. If this is not possible, spend time praying for one person who has made you uncomfortable, angry, or frustrated.
As the war in Yemen rages on, the world turns its eyes away while Yemenis are facing what is currently known as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Contact your Members of Congress to urge them to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen: http://bit.ly/Yemen2021MOGC
Header photo of desert sands available on Pixabay: https://bit.ly/3pJnNVP. Photo of Christine Bodewes and Kenyan children courtesy of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.