1 Lent B – February 22, 2015 – Lent: Fact or Fiction?
In writing about the Academy Awards film critic Steven Rea asks, is “Hollywood more interested in the story than in the facts.”  As we enter another forty days of Lenten practice are we taken up with the biblical stories and liturgical traditions? Is there a way for us to delve into the deeper dimensions and opportunities this season offers us?
Religion like movies can challenge the way we think about issues: Human dignity, war, feminism, and the environment are just a few. One has to be cautious not to accept every movie as factual. According to Rea some of the movies up for an Oscar this year alter or omit facts trying to “squeeze messy realities and relationships into neat stories.”
For example “Selma” suggests that President Lyndon Johnson was antagonistic toward the civil rights movement. Some would say he was sympathetic. Friends of the real Alan Turing called him likable, socially nimble and up front about being gay. The movie, “Imitation Game” did not depict him like that at all.
Today we heard two readings that have been featured at one time or another in a movie. For example, the great flood. A rickety ark loaded with creatures bobbing in a raging sea, coming to rest on a mountain located in present day Turkish Kurdistan at the foot of a rainbow nonetheless? Fact? Fiction?
Inside Noah’s story we are reminded that the creator God is capable of changing courses. Rather than destroying people who are, as we are, inherently flawed, God comes to the rescue inviting people to repent from their evil ways. We remember that the phrase “to repent” means “to change” not to do penance.
What moving picture do you have of Jesus in the desert? A parched, hungry, tired, miracle worker looking to get away from the crowds?
A Jewish peasant seeking wisdom from God while being taunted by a pesky devil who plays mind games with him? Jesus’s time in the desert was a test of character. Did he have it in him to do great things for us?
We, too, are called to do great things on earth. What tests, what changes in our lives will help us? Joining a new religion like Meg Bassinson and Jessica Burns? Kicking a bad habit? Sitting still long enough to sense the presence of God? Whatever the goal, how do we get started in order to do great things?
Pamela Druckerman writes, “If you are not living up to your potential, clutter is probably the culprit.”  She lists a number of things that often prevent us from focusing on what is most important to us, things that are often overlooked because of … clutter!
Addictions to social media, drugs, work, power, lying and procrastination are some examples of what clutters our lives. Often we put on our stage faces to mask our addictions. The actor, Michael Keaton, in “Birdman” was caged by his ego, his false image of himself and could not escape. There are others things in life we would like to change but feel totally helpless in doing so. Terminal illness, war, abuse, unemployment, even the weather can prevent us from making progress in our lives.
The words “being tempted” in Greek mean “being tested.” Like Jesus, we are all tested one time or another in life. Jesus spent forty days among the demons and beasts, symbols of the conflicts he would later encounter. He was not harmed by the beasts because he was protected by angels, messengers reminding Jesus that God was walking the journey with him.  It is the same story line we heard in the first reading today.
Faith in God and each other matters in life even though it may not answer all our problems. Lent is a time to figure out how to handle the tests that life gives us. Confronting the clutter, the demons, the addictions, the diseases in our lives can be a challenge. That is why we need each other’s help to focus on the positive, the good things life brings to us.
Film writers can blur the lines between facts and fiction. We cannot do that with our lives. In the face of temptations and in our weakest moments, we are called to live honestly and truthfully. Sometimes that means changing our hearts and our minds.
1. Rea, Steven. “Hollywood More Interested in the Story than in the Facts” Philadelphia Inquirer 2/9/15
2. Druckerman, Pamela “The Clutter Cure” in New York Times, 2/17/15, A23
3. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 35