Lent is quickly winding down, and perhaps the success of your Lenten rituals is a bit checkered. Sustaining any type of radical life change is often easy at the beginning, but the slightest bit of friction from life can cause the best intentions to crumble.
Jesus tells us that he came to fulfill the law. In many ways, he raised the bar, asking us to aim even higher. He asks us to be perfect as God is perfect, despite his full knowledge that we will never attain that level.
Reading through the Old Testament can be scandalous. The modern Christian views their relationship with God through the lens of the New Testament and its revised covenant. But salvation history traces its roots much further back in time. The Old Testament has dozens of rules and prescriptions from God himself that seem crude, violent, and the antithesis to our understanding of God.
The Old Testament historical times were difficult ones, in which tribalism and violence ruled the day. Although often we find in the Old Testament God giving permission to commit acts of violence against other people, there’s a deeper thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation.
God understands the heart of man, and he understands that the fundamental conversion that he calls us to is a difficult one. He asks for us, with the weakness of original sin, to set aside our desires and aspirations so that we can think and act perfectly in concert with God’s mind and heart. To accomplish his ultimate vision, and with full respect of our free will, God invites us to incremental change.
Each time God lays out a new law or instruction in Scripture, it is an action that is slightly less violent than the one before. Inch by inch, decision by decision, he moves the people of Israel, and us, closer to his divine will.
The process of conversion is a life-long one. At each decision point, the call is for us to turn slightly more towards God and slightly away from ourselves. We should not begin our Lenten penances with the expectation of perfection, but we should begin with the hope of perfection. The goal of this Lent is that as we gather around the altar at the Easter liturgy, our efforts have brought us incrementally closer to the freedom and purity of heart that God so deeply desires for us.