Marianne Meye Thompson (MDiv ’78)
George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary
Many Christians practice the discipline of “giving up” something for Lent–a favorite food, such as chocolate or coffee, or a favorite activity, such as television. But once Lent is over, so is the “giving up.” Living as Jesus calls us to live means that we are asked to let go of certain things, not just temporarily, but altogether. What we are called to let go of are those self-seeking ways, attitudes that further our own interests and ends, the grudge that we are nursing, anger against a boss or coworker or mate, a bad habit, our greed, and the driving desire to have or consume something. As Jesus approached the Cross, he let go of his own will and even his own life. He gave himself to God. So to live in the shadow of the Cross is to let go of those things that keep us from living fully unto God and for the benefit of others, precisely with the intent of letting them go forever.
It is also possible in Lent to think not of giving something up but of giving something away. In these fearful and anxious times, it is easy to turn to protecting our own interests and concerns. And it is important to be prudent. But the hungry are still hungry–and maybe hungrier–when times are tough; the homeless are still homeless, and there may be more of them. Although it is easier to clench one’s hands than to open them, Jesus calls his disciples to “give their lives” to serve others. One of the ways this is done most tangibly–and perhaps painfully, too–is to practice the discipline of giving alms (Mt 6:2-4). Lent is a time not so much to give something up, but to give it away, as Jesus gave himself away for us.