It’s Lent and I am reading the gospels again.
A few years ago, I discovered that if you read 2 chapters a day for most of Lent and then 3 chapters through the last week before Easter - you can read all four gospels in 40 days.
It has been my practise for the past several years.
Jesus gets a lot of weird press - press that I can let seep into my heart.
I use the term “weird” because people like to throw around Jesus’ name a lot. The culture we live in, a post Christian culture, has a remnant of Jesus in its memory but the memory is not always accurate. Jesus is often co-opted to serve someone’s agenda, his words are diluted or edited to be about one specific thing or cause, he is reduced to a manageable, simple, soft and cuddly historical figure.
I am guilty of thinking of Jesus in this way and perhaps you are too.
I start to believe I can control Jesus and that I know all there is to know about him. But the more I try to control Jesus the more I am unable to receive him. The more I believe I completely understand him, the less I can learn from him. The more I try and put Jesus into a completely understandable box the further I get away from him.
And so every Lent, I read about Jesus again. I have found that all it takes is an actual engagement with the biblical accounts of his life to wrench me back into the reality of who Yahweh incarnated is.
I need to read again the story of the adulteress woman - where Jesus does not condone or excuse her sin but also acknowledges and defends her dignity - and holds those two tensions so perfectly.
I need to read again the story of people being healed from demons to remember that there are battles and realities beyond the physical world that I see.
I need to listen to the words of the Sermon on the Mount that outline Jesus’ “upside down kingdom” - a term used by Dallas Willard.
I need to hear the words of Jesus and let them fall on my hardened heart, break my heart, and bring me into new life.
I need to read Jesus. More then just at Lent, but at least Lent is a good start.
A few weeks into this exercise, I usually reach a point where I say, to anyone who will listen, that I am not sure I like Jesus very much.
Reading Jesus is hard too.
He asks hard things and is rough with those that should know better. He is often confusing, mysterious, and hidden. Every time I read the words of Jesus, I am confronted with my own hardness of heart, my own idolatry, and my own lack of faith. I find myself in the gospel stories - often in the weakness displayed by the disciples or those that Jesus’ meet. I am forced to reexamine my soul as those eyes that looked across the courtyard at Peter peer out at me through the words. And I am often convicted to respond and repent.
But I am also given opportunities to receive healing and the lifting off of my burdens. Every year I read the last chapter of John where Jesus meets Peter at a charcoal fire on the beach and forgives him and invites him back into relationship. Or I read the story of Jesus’ compassion on the woman that touched the hem of his garment, of his weeping at Lazarus’ tomb and finally, a sacrificial love so deep that he was willing to be completely and utterly abandoned by every single friend and family he had, enduring excruciating pain and suffering and then be separated from God to do away with sin once and for all.
I need to read Jesus.
I need to reengage with the records of Jesus’ life on earth to realign my heart with his and to let him out of the box I keep him in.
I need to read Jesus to wrestle with him and ultimately be drawn deeper in love with him.
I am so easily seduced by the values of our culture, by the lies, by the twisting of Jesus’ words by those seeking to form him into what they want him to be. And every Lent, I get a little restart. A little refresher. A reintroduction to who Jesus is.
It isn’t too late and you could join me. You might have to speed read a few chapters but you are welcome to join. To reengage with Jesus for 40 days, to look again at what he actually said, things he actually did, wrestle with his words and let them fall like a healing balm on your soul. They might hurt or they might soothe but they are ALWAYS words of freedom.
This is an opportunity to re-evangelize a part of your heart that needs to hear the words of Jesus again. We all have at least one, if not many, parts of our hearts that need to hear him again.
So what you do say? Will you let Jesus out of the box and see how he might surprise you over the next 40 days?
However you chose to observe Lent this year, I know you will be blessed to walk a little closer with Jesus.