The model for Lent comes out of the stories in the Synoptic Gospels about Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness being tempted (Matt. 4.1-11; Mark 1.12-13; Luke 4.1-13). During those 40 days, Satan tempts Jesus. In Matthew’s and Luke’s versions, Jesus explicitly rejects Satan’s temptations; in Mark, the refusal comes more implicitly. Key to all three stories is that Jesus does not reject Satan in the wilderness only to indulge in the temptations later. Rather, Jesus calculates the “good” Satan offers him and says no. Forever.
Compare this to how we practice Lent. Supposedly predicated on Jesus’ wilderness experience, we indulge in vices on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and turn ascetic on Ash Wednesday until Resurrection Sunday. After which time, we proceed to indulge again. In no way do we follow Jesus’ example. Jesus refused very real, tangible temptations: self-preservation/social salvation of the hungry, religious authority, and absolute monarchical reign of all peoples. What do we give up? Facebook, chocolate, movies, and a whole list of arbitrary exercises and addictions. Do we examine our own complicity in systemic oppression and act to change that? Do we refuse political power? Do we refuse religious power? No, we pretend to join Jesus’ suffering by abandoning superfluous, middle-class amenities, think about how terrible dying on a cross would be, and thank G-d we do not have to deal with massive, systemic moral problems because Jesus is going to return and fix everything. News flash people: Satan tempted Jesus with the easy, logical solutions to the world’s problems and Jesus said, “No thank you!”
Lent needs to be a time of deep, internal reflection during which time we reject those temptations faced by Jesus in the wilderness. So why am I not giving anything up for Lent? I am not giving up anything for Lent because entering into the actual wilderness in order to refuse Satan is hard! I am not ready to abandon a part of myself forever. However, that is the call of Lent. That is the call and example of Jesus. I pray that I may be strong enough to one day enter that wilderness. I pray that every day, I might enter that wilderness. I challenge you. This year, let Lent be a time of actually following Jesus.