*Alternate* First Reading “Three Things That Made Lent Real” by Joan Chittister

“And what does God require of you?” Scripture asks. The answer is a stark one: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” What?! The answer confuses us. It takes our puny little religious concepts, the ones we attribute to God in order to make ourselves feel good, and turns them upside down. A people given to religious bartering—so many turtle doves, so many bullocks, so much Lenten fasting done to keep God happy with us—is told that sacrifice is not the answer. Only conversion of life really counts where the God of gods is concerned. In fact, it is the ultimate sacrifice asked for here, this putting down of the greed we call “progress” and the vindictiveness we call “justice” and the pride we call “success.”

But that’s where Lent gets real.

It is the justice of the Jesus who cured Romans as well as Jews that we are expected to practice in a world full of refugees and political enemies and children without health insurance. It is the mercy of the Jesus who lifted up the woman taken in adultery and befriended the tax collector in the tree that we are expected to bring to the world around us.

It is simplicity of the Jesus who “became just like us” and did not consider “being equal to God a thing to be clung to” that we are to show to those on the social ladder beneath us—that is the real Lenten fasting God desires of us. Lent leads us to ask ourselves how much of any of this kind of sacrifice we are really doing. Justice, mercy, and simplicity of life are the only things that make for a genuine Lent.

The Words of Joan Chittister.