Turn these stones into bread.
Throw yourself from this tower and let the angels catch you.
Bow down before me and all these kingdoms shall be yours.
Do you think Jesus needed the Devil’s help to accomplish these things? Since Jesus is God, then not likely. This is the conundrum of Lent. Jesus neither succumbed to the temptation offered by Satan, nor did he do for himself what was plainly within his power to do. Those of us who are privileged could stand to learn a lesson in this story.
What is within our power to do that we don’t do for the sake of standing with those who don’t have power at all? Is this not one of the calls for Lent? To examine our power and to willingly relinquish it for a time of reflection and de-centering of our own concerns? Or, perhaps, to take our power and use it for ends and means that are not to our own benefit, but to the benefit of others?
These are the questions I wrestle with during Lent. The question of power and privilege. The question of limits, self-imposed or otherwise, that allow me to remember not my own place, per se, but my small place among countless others who also have a place and also those who, perhaps, don’t. To make room for those with no place! To take myself out of the center and to center the needs and concerns of others who have been robbed of power. To remember what is within my power and what is not. And to not succumb to the temptations the world offers that would cause me to exercise my power wrongly over others. Likewise with my privilege.
The Lenten call to remember our mortality; the call to pray, fast, and give; is about de-centering ourselves. To remember our contingency and our dependence, to symbolically deny ourselves the fulfillment of every want, and to give of our own bounty to those who have less or nothing at all. Nothing puts things into clearer perspective than the inevitability of our death. Nothing more powerfully symbolic than to remember we are dust, like all things once were, like every being once was, and that we will one day find ourselves returning to that dust. To deny that we are dust is to miss the point of Lent. But we are beloved dust. Dust with dignity. Dust with holy purpose. Dust with choice! For a cloud of dust has no center. There is no single grain of it that exercises power over the rest. And it is the wind, the Spirit of God, that moves the dust to where it will.
What choices will we make this Lent that is informed by our dust-ness?
What will we do with the temptation to center ourselves and our own concerns during Lent? Will we give away our self-centered concerns to the powers of this world that tempt? That defile the dignity of the human soul? Or will we, like Jesus, choose not to do this nor even call upon our own powers to manipulate the world to our own ends?
God, help me to remember my place.