Lent 1: Are we lazy or jealous?
There is an ancient Christian tradition that names seven vices as particularly egregious. So much so, that they have been labeled the seven deadly sins. In the tradition these acts of behavior fall within “capital or cardinal” sins. Let’s just say to obtain the forgiveness of the church more was required than “I’m sorry”.
Our tradition does not rely so much on categorizing personal sins in this way. Putting a category of sin on a scale of one to ten, or calling them venial (lesser) or cardinal (one of the big seven), is left pretty much between a person and God’s own self.
That said, those seven traditional “deadly sins” do offer us a window as we enter this season of Lent. In the gospel of Mark we have the most succinct version of “the temptation of Jesus”:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
This Lenten season I will post a Blog series that invites us into our own wilderness experience. There I hope to use the framework of the seven deadly sins as a way for us to name those things in this world that demonize us and those with whom we share this planet. Evil exists in this world and we have a remarkable tendency to dismiss it, ignore it, or rationalize it. Yet one of the characteristics of Jesus’ ministry on earth (and his instructions for our discipleship) was to confront evil head on and lift it out of those he met so that they may experience of wholeness of life. This Lent is an opportunity for us to name the demons so that we too can be about the ministry of freedom and justice.
Because there are six weeks in Lent and seven classic “deadly sins”, week one will combine two: sloth and envy.
Using a generic website, http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/what-are-seven-deadly-sins, here are working definitions for this week:
Sloth is an excessive laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents.
Envy is the intense desire to have an item or experience that someone else possesses.
Neither of these vices seem particularly threatening to a 21st Century highly industrialized, highly technological, highly compensated nation such as the United States. They are more likely to be used as incentives in a capitalistic society to achieve the goals of wealth and well-being. We have filled our lives with aspirant images. We have even publically proclaimed that consumerism is the way out of economic downfalls. We rate our economic success as a nation and as individuals by the amount of things we can buy. And if we don’t “get-on-board” with that scenario then we are lazy, useless, boring, old-fashioned. And we certainly are not worth employing in a meaningful way because we would not be willing to put the company’s profit margin as our top life priority.
How easily character flaws turn into weapons against one another. And there is the evil we ignore. They are the first demons of our wilderness journey. This is where we begin to see how we ourselves are complicit in the evils around us.
Whether in our homes, our workplaces, or our political setting the evil of “sloth” is working it’s way into our lives.
· It happens with our language as we fail to appreciate the hopes and interests of family members who want to pursue their life in one way and we berate them because they do not achieve what we have decided is best for them.
· It happens in our workplaces when we follow policies and practices that create an excessively stress-filled environment based on productivity and working well beyond any “normal” working day. Far too many people feel they must be working electronically well into the night because the work policies require instant response. Far too many people cannot afford to miss work to care for sick children or family members. And vacation time is a joke. Failure to work nonstop, or at the decision of the company can cost people their very jobs.
· It happens in our political sphere as we publically call people lazy as a way to change policy and to remove pieces of a safety net program. It is even being used against that population known as “Dreamers” on the pretext of justifying deportation.
Sloth becomes much more than a quaint “seven deadly personal sin” when we realize how often we as a society use it as an excuse to dismiss people so that we don’t have any requirement to use our financial resources to help. Sloth becomes evil when we use it as a verbal weapon to show our disapproval and disdain for God’s beloved sons and daughters.
Likewise envy distorts our lives. It is no wonder that we might come across the demonizing shape of envy as we wander in the wilderness. You can recognize it as that which stands between us and God (the very definition of sin). It is the cloud that blots our ability to express gratitude. It is the negative energy that keeps us from finding any sense of satisfaction in life. It is the driving force that propels us on the fast track to acquire more of everything no matter the cost. It is the filter that allows us to evaluate one another in terms of what we have and not who we are.
The challenge as we work our way through these Lenten meditations is to confront the demons and the evils such as sloth and envy, and then figure out how we make the choices to serve God and not them. How do we look beyond Lent and our life as disciples and continue to deny them power? How do we look at our civil and religious lives and call out these forces for evil on behalf of those for whom Christ died?
These Blog meditations are open-ended. Each person’s journey into the wilderness will be different. Yet each person, if they are paying attention, will come across each of the classic seven vices. Each person will be asked to look beyond seeing them as personal failings and instead see them for the destructive force they have on God’s beloved children. And then, if willing, each person will be called to choose whether to serve the forces of destruction or to serve God, made known in Jesus the Christ, who so loves the world – who so loves us.
Grace and Peace