Lent 1: Keeping Up With the Joneses?

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark.1:9-15

Like Jesus we are often taken into the wilderness, although in a more superficial way. We are tempted by the pressures of society to “keep up with the Jones’.” We value ourselves only when we compare what others have that we don’t. We strive to be better than our neighbors, and to show that we can outdo them: My car is better than theirs. My house in larger than theirs. Our financial restraints are tested daily if our neighbor acquires self-recognition through their possessions, and we soon find ourselves pursuing the same task, regardless of the cost.

The cost of this is often is our spiritual guidance and our spiritual lives. No longer do we think of the message of God. In reality our material satisfaction overshadows who we are within our souls. We do not acknowledge the simple things in life. We fail to love ourselves and others in the name of greed. We must learn to be content with who we are and look at how we can share with others the Good News that represents the message of Jesus. Our failure to accept what we have, true friends and a loving family, divides us as God’s children. We soon find ourselves trapped in the constant upheaval of modern society. We lose our ability to relate to others the way Jesus does.

We must look at our neighbors as people we can turn to in a time of real need, and to look at ourselves as people to whom they can turn. Who cares how big their house is, or how new their car is? Jesus doesn’t care! He simply wants us to love and respect one another.

Some day we might need to open our doors to our neighbors and should expect the same in return. We must ask ourselves why we live the way we do. When will we change? Who is looking out for us? There are times in every one’s lives when we discover that we are lost. Take me for instance. When I was in high school, I found myself following others as a way to fit in. I had few friends but when someone approached me as a potential friend, I quickly attempted to give answers on various issues that I thought they would like to hear, such as “Do you think so and so is pretty?” or “Have you tried this? or that?” Not to be ridiculed, I would respond with” no, not really” and “yes I have done this or that.” What was my purpose? Why did I need to lower my expectations? I never wanted to feel like an outcast, but to be seen be part of the group, I went along with them, so I could fit it. It took me time to realize that my lack of spiritual guidance, created an emotional scar on who I was as a person.

So, I took the time to re-evaluate what was important to me. In my effort to “fit in” with God’s plan I had to look deep inside myself and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and my select friends, I was able to build a life for myself. Embracing others allowed me to see my true friends and how, in their strength, they would accept me as I was. I no longer used my opinions to harm others, but used the common sense of a good Christian to learn and to share in the goodness of others. To this day my true friends are my equals and we care not for who has what, or who knows whom and so forth. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit, that all of our friends and family create a lasting foundation on which to build a purposeful life.

Over time I was able to repent from my judgmental ways, knowing that God will be there for me. The good news that Jesus shared with his disciples will always live. It is for us to take this news and grow from it. Our hearts and minds will open up to their fullest and in essence we will love ourselves and others unconditionally just as Jesus does. Remember, it is not our material items that make us, but our ability to live and share the good news.

I challenge you, as we strive to become more Christ-like during this Lenten season, to concentrate not on the material things in life, but on the spiritual, so that you, too, may hear the words, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Amen.

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