Today’s introduction to the Penitential Rite is taken from Pope Francis’ exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. “I invite Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” Not a bad invitation for us as we begin our Lenten journey.
Pope Francis goes on to say, “No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’” Have you ever thought of Lent as being a joyful season? And yet, isn’t that exactly what Lent should be for us. It is a time when we are challenged to repent and believe in the gospel and, as Pope Francis reminds us, the gospel is a gospel of joy.
In today’s scripture that joy is based in the covenant relationship the Israelites had with God. There were specific things they were obligated to do and specific things Yahweh had to do. Their relationship revolved around each side carrying out their mutual obligations.
As a practicing Jew, Jesus was committed to the covenants his faith ancestors entered with Yahweh. Jesus also took that covenant relationship to a deeper level. He went beyond what was obligated to do. Fr. Roger Karban uses marriage as an example of going beyond the obligations of a covenant
“Most happily married couples live fulfilling lives because they go beyond the vows they took on their wedding day. They’re not only faithful to one another in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, intending to stay married until death. They also constantly do little or big things for one another that step beyond their vowed faithfulness, things they don’t “have” to do, which make all the difference in the quality of their daily lives. Such acts of love add the element of freedom to a covenant relationship. Though we’re not free to ignore the terms of the contract that apply to us, we’re always free to act beyond those obligations. It’s those loving actions that create a unique relationship. No two marriage dominated by love are ever alike. And it’s those actions that develop our individual personalities.” (Celebration)
It is when we learn to go to that deeper level that we come to a deeper experience of the joy of the gospel. That is what Lent invites us to: come to know Jesus and to follow him. Repent of those things in our lives that hold us back from knowing and following Him. Believe that living the gospel will bring us the joy that God desires for us.