By Steven Norris
This week, many in the global church are beginning the journey of Lent, the period of 40 days leading up to Easter. It echoes the 40 days of Jesus’ temptation, the 40 days of rain experienced by Noah and his family, the 40 days that Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai, and the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.
At our church, we will journey through the season of Lent this year with a special focus on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). We will explore theological themes that arise from that story in this column over the next few weeks, as well.
The first theme that comes to the surface is the idea of sin — often defined as that which is wrong or in violation of a religious moral code or expectation. It is a concept so weighed down with baggage that it may even be hard for us to talk about sin apart from experiences of self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes.
In his wonderful little book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner describes sin in this way: “The power of sin is centrifugal. When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left. Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left. ‘The wages of sin is death’ is Saint Paul’s way of saying the same thing. Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you’re part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self.”
Sin entices us to wander away from our “home” and into a “foreign land.” It can be a conscious choice to embrace chaos and destruction in our lives rather than wholeness and order. More specifically, sin describes the life entangled in selfishness, violence, greed, gluttony, pride, or any other means of fragmentation that divides our lives and pushes others away.
Sin also creeps in when we overlook the countless opportunities that we have to do good — to connect with others, form community, bless, help, or encourage. Sin is that which keeps us in isolation, holding others at a distance. Sin is that which cuts us off from life-giving communion with God and with others.
The Good News is that Jesus has come to save us from making ourselves the center of our own universe. He has come to reconcile us with God and one another, forming a greater whole than we ever imagined possible. The journey of Lent is a call to make those tentative first steps in our journey back to the center, back to our home in God.