Every time we are confused with certain things in our life we take a break, go for a retreat, meditate and think about where we are. Lent is a time to get our act straight and decide what our priorities are. It is to come to an understanding that we are observing lent to reiterate that we are with God and we are working for God’s kingdom.
St. Matthew 6:24 tells us that we cannot have two masters. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” We can either serve God or serve mammon (wealth, money). It is clearly one and not two simultaneously. Many sermons are tweaked to explain that although we have loads of money we can still serve God. This is not possible and lent is a painful reminder of that. We can serve only one master. What then is the essence of all that we are doing? We are working and insist on being paid and feel that money is important for every small thing in life. There is also the parable of the worker in St. Matthew 25:14-30 who buried his talent and was admonished by his master because he buried the talent given to him. So it is not to say that we must leave everything but to say that God should be primary. Everything else comes later. God and not money should determine the decisions we make.
Putting it this way, lent is a reminder that we can do with much lesser and we don’t need to hoard and keep away so that we can be assured of a better life. Rather, lent reminds us that we can cut down on several things and still be happy. It is an opportunity to remind our children that everything can’t be bought with money and important things can never be purchased. During lent we have to remember that our partner is a gift of God and is with us because of our love and not because of the money we have. If it was money, we would not be able to keep our partner. It is only love which is a gift from God which can do that. Lent is a beautiful reminder of this by making us feel that our love for Christ is so much that we can make do with very little because love satisfies all hunger.
During lent, as a family we can come together and understand that we have had difficult times out of which God helped us. There could also be bad times in the future and this experience of lenting will prepare us for such a time. During lent, as a family we are reminded that the love for God over shadows the love for everything else. God and not money matters! Together with this we also understand that all that God has given us matters more than wealth. And this includes our parents, siblings, partner, children and friends. We cannot put a price on them. Lent makes us understand this better.
I remember an incident when a man came forward to help his uncle who was in the hospital. The doctors gave up and the extended and immediate family followed suit. This man though said he would spend the money for the operation even though there was a minimal chance of success. The patient died but the man still had a point. He said that one cannot put a price for family. To save a life we have to give everything we have because everything we have won’t measure up to our family! I found much faith in the man and his convictions that all the money he had made meant nothing to him as long as they could not be of help to someone.
Ecclesiastes 5 is a passage for us to learn from. Verse 10 says that the lover of money will not be satisfied with money. This is because money can’t offer everything. It only suggests it can but at the end we realize that by itself it is of no use to us. In verse 12 it is mentioned that the labourers will have sweet sleep whereas the extra burden of the rich will not allow them good sleep. During lent we try to lose all the excess baggage so that we can sleep heartily. So lent is a time for the rich to trim their wealth and in the process get much needed peace of mind. Verse 15 says that we will go back naked just like we came from our mother’s womb. It suggests that how much ever you make, you simply can’t take it with you. Lent is a good reminder of this. By deciding to follow God we will get peace of mind which we won’t get by hugging our wealth.
Lent is difficult sometimes because we haven’t made up our minds. It is not to make up our mind on whether we should observe lent or not but to make up our mind as to who we should follow. Observing lent is an opportunity we get to reiterate our commitment to God. The richer we are the more we have to let go. Contrary to what we think, most of the self made billionaires in the world don’t live lavish lifestyles. They give away a lot of what they make. We must also understand that God is working through us so that we help the less fortunate and those pushed away from main stream society. Our boss in this sense is God and we are working every minute for God and not for ourselves. The more we let go and give away the more we will have because we will learn to live with minimalist things.
There are two symbolisms I would like to leave you with. They are both impulsive behavior and yet yield different results. One is online shopping and the other is giving to the poor and needy. Both are done impulsively sometimes and both give satisfaction. It is estimated that in the U.S. impulsive behaviour leads to sales worth 4 billion dollars with 62% of store purchases considered impulsive. In India this figure is much lesser but Geetha M. and Bharadwaj in their article "Impulse Buying Behaviour in India: An overview" say that even though research suggests there is close to 16% impulsive buying, this figure could be much higher because people living in collectivistic societies like India would not divulge actual information even though they may be buying impulsively. This said, the satisfaction that we get when we help someone is more than any other satisfaction. While shopping online we may feel happy but later on the product we bought will stare back at us with no emotion because it is a product of wealth. On the other hand a human being who is helped will smile back at us because the human is a creation of God. When we are tempted into impulsive buying we buy things which we don't actually need but anyway buy them because we worship them. On the other hand helping people is considered not so important because we are not worshiping God enough. Let this lent be a time for meditation, retreat, prayer and more than anything else, for making up our mind that we serve God. Let it also be a time when other human beings look and smile at us instead of looking like the cold lifeless products we buy.