PEOPLE OF LENT
Who are the people of Lent? For the most part, these are the people of the Bible who have played a relatively minor role in the Old Testament. A reading about one of these people appears very seldom in the readings at Mass. A notable exception, however, are the daily readings for Lent. Many of the Lenten readings are about these minor characters because they present themes most relevant to this liturgical season; some of these are: repentance, faith and trust in God, and God’s abounding mercy and forgiveness. In addition to the Lenten themes, the stories of these minor characters offer some of the finest narratives in the Bible. Five of these biblical people are included in this article. For each character, the biblical reference for the story is provided. Most of them are very short and can be quickly read. Also included is a brief explanation as to what these people can teach us for our Lenten observance.
The first story comes from the book of Jonah and is used at Mass on Wednesday of the first week of Lent. The entire book is only two pages in length.
The story of Jonah and his mission to Nineveh are meant to convey two important messages for Lent. First, God’s great mercy, care, and concern extends to all peoples and nations. Second, we are called to imitate the people of Nineveh in their acts of penance. Taken within the total context of the book of Jonah, we learn that our acts of penance are not only directed to God but also to one another in acts of mercy and forgiveness.
The second prominent person of Lent is Esther and her story is one of the most intriguing in the Old Testament. This is the longest of the Lenten stories and has acquired many additions down through the ages. If you omit the additions, it is not so long.
The passage of Esther that is used for Lent (14:1, 3-5, 12-14) is part of the prayer she offers to God before she goes to the king to intercede for the Jewish people. Her prayer acknowledges God as her only source of help and that with God’s help she will have the courage to do what is right, a most appropriate prayer for Lent.
Monday of the third week of Lent introduces the next minor character of the Old Testament – Naaman, the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-27), a very short story!
The meaning for Lent is simple: God’s mercy reaches out even to those that we might think are not worthy of it.
The Fiery Furnace
There is one story that is used at Mass on two occasions during Lent – the story of the three young men in the fiery furnace from the book of Daniel (3:1-97). This story shows that God rewards fidelity with his care and protection even in the most difficult situations. This story is used in the Mass readings for Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent.
The reading for Monday of the third week of Lent makes use of the prayer that one of the three young men, Abednego, says in the midst of the flames of the furnace. This passage was chosen for Lent because it helps us to recognise our sinfulness and to turn to God for forgiveness. At the same time, it calls us to be mindful of God’s gracious mercy. Despite our sinfulness God comes to the assistance of those who request it with a sincere heart.
One of the most exciting stories of Lent is that of Susanna and the corrupt judges, which is also found in the book of Daniel (13:1-64). This reading is used on Monday of the fifth week of Lent and shows how God protects those who have faith in him and strive to lead good lives.
When all these stories are taken together, some common themes begin to emerge which say something about us as well as something about Jesus:
What they say about us: God is rich in mercy and forgiveness and calls us to be as merciful and forgiving to one another.
What they say about Jesus: God protects and defends the just and righteous person who is willing to lay down his life for God and his fellow man. This is what the great fifty-day, Easter celebration is all about.