The month of February ushers in the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is a day that Christians take the time to look at the reality of our own humanness as we prepare for the season of Lent that precedes Easter. In the Christian tradition, Lent is symbolic of the forty days when Jesus endured the temptation of the devil while he was in the desert. The purpose of Lent is to prepare believers through prayer, fasting, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial, for the annual commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week, Easter, or the Passover.
The number forty has other Biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God; the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb; God made it rain for forty days and forty nights in the days of Noah; the Hebrew people wandered forty years traveling to the Promised Land and Jonah, in his prophecy of judgment, gave the city of Nineveh forty days’ time in which to repent.
Along with penitence, abstaining or denying ourselves material and worldly pleasure, the giving of Alms or Alms deeds, is another way to observe Lent. Alms is mentioned in the New Testament (NT) and is translated in the Greek [Eleēmosynē] which means to show kindness; to be merciful or to pity. Essentially, giving alms is the act of giving relief to the poor or a charitable act. In the Old Testament (OT), the Hebrew word “sedeq” is used in Deuteronomy, Psalms and Proverbs. It means righteousness and justice; it is used to emphasize the duty of caring for the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger. To Fast or Fasting, in biblical terms, implies total abstinence from all food for a certain period of time. The Hebrew word “som” is not found in the Pentateuch, but the Greek term “nēsteuō” means hunger. In the OT and in the Mosaic Law, fasting was used to lower or humble one’s self by self-denial as a proper expression of repentance. This religious practice was widespread throughout ancient religions and it is still practiced, today, in many Faith traditions.
During ancient times fasting, as a religious duty, was perpetrated by thoughts and beliefs that God was not pleased with the behavior of human beings and thus going without food for a period of time, voluntarily, was a sacrifice, an act of individual piety. God is not impressed with the act of fasting, unless it signifies turning from strife and oppression as the prophet Isaiah illustrates in the 58th chap- ter beginning at the 3rd verse…
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I chose: to loose the bounds of the injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
1 Corinthians 13:1-8 [The Message Translation-MSG]
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
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