Gospel Reflection: First Sunday of Lent

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.

These are the first words uttered by Jesus in Mark’s gospel and we hear them today. Theologian Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I. tells us that in English, the word repent is often misunderstood. “It seems to imply that we have already done something wrong, regret it, and now commit ourselves to live in a new way…to live beyond a sinful past.” But, Rolheiser explains, that this is not what is meant biblically. “In the gospels, the particular word used for repentance is metanoia. Literally this means to do an about face, to turn around, to face in an entirely new direction.” And this is the invitation for this first Sunday of Lent - to turn our lives around - to face in an entirely new direction. Jesus is urging his listeners - and us - to change our lives, to see anew.

The surgery waiting room at the Punata Hospital

So many of my most significant experiences of seeing anew, the ah-ha moments in my own life, have come in the context of global immersion and mission. As I think of these experiences, it is as though I am flipping through a vibrant photo album. I see a woman sharing vivid stories of the abuses she encountered working in a textile factory on the Texas/Mexico border, and I remember first connecting the realities of my economic choices with the lives of workers. Later, I see a young wife sitting on a wooden bench outside the door of the operating room in the Punata Hospital in Bolivia. I feel true solidarity as I remember my Mom’s hospital room and my own mounting fear and anxiety. And there are so many other moments, from Central America, to Appalachia to my own complex city. Each of these experiences invited me to do an about face, to turn around, to face my life in an entirely new direction.

We often think of global mission work as a response to the call to serve, particularly to serve people in great need as though in the mission relationship one of us is giver and the other is receiver. But, for many years now, I have been captivated by Claude Marie Barbour’s concept of “mission in reverse.” Barbour turns the common notion of the dynamic of mission on its head. She insists that ministers or missioners need to first be taught by those they intend to serve. This concept has itself been an ah-ha moment for me, and it resonates deeply with my own experience. I have been changed by the views and perspectives of those I have encountered as I have crossed bridges into new places and communities. Solidarity Bridge’s model of mission, rooted in partnership and mutuality, reflects the wisdom of this concept as well. As missioners, we learn from those we encounter in Bolivia - partner doctors, hospital administrators, patients, families and colleagues. They are our teachers and we are invited to see and understand the systems and structures of the world through new lenses because of these encounters.

Part of the gift of mission is that it invites us out of our daily routines and familiar surroundings. And, in many ways, this makes it easier to see anew. But, we don’t have to board a plane for Bolivia to have this experience. This is the daily call of our faith and Lent gives us this gift. As we enter into this season of praying, fasting and giving alms, how are we being invited to let go of all that prevents us from living as our fullest selves? How might we respond to Lent’s call to deeper mindfulness of our responsibility for each other and our oneness, particularly in our vulnerability and suffering? How can we work to transform our communities through acts of compassion, forgiveness and healing? As we respond to this Lenten call, we open ourselves to the possibility of being transformed, of turning around or being turned around, of facing in an entirely new direction. This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

First Sunday of Lent - Go in a new direction

Inviting God,

you gift us with opportunities to see anew. This Lent, may we be open to change in our own hearts and lives so that we may work, in solidarity with others, to heal and transform your world.

Megan Kennedy-Farrell is Solidarity Bridge’s Senior Director of Mission and Identity. She holds a Masters degree in Religious Education from Loyola University Chicago and has over twenty years of experience in university ministry, peacebuilding and social justice education, and Latin American solidarity work. She lives in Evanston with her family and is an active parishioner at St. Nicholas Church.

Your Lenten almsgiving will restore lives
and relieve suffering in Bolivia. 

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