“We eat better today than kings did a hundred years ago!” That was one of my father’s favorite sayings, usually spoken as he sat down to a roast beef dinner. The “abundant life” that Jesus speaks of in John’s gospel (chapter 10) is a tough sell when people have all they could possibly need and as much as they could ever want. The need for permanent housing, for consistently nourishing food, for jobs that pay a living wage – even access to safe drinking water – these are on the rise even as those who have all those things keep getting more. How do you sell Jesus’ vision of “abundant life” in this context? Who will be more inclined to listen?.
Today – February 9 – is “Shrove Tuesday” – or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). Pieter Bruegel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (pictured above) is a Sixteenth Century painting from the Netherlands. It highlights the tension between the feast and the fast, between the “world” and the “church”. The fat man in the foreground is the symbol of “Carnival”. Everything on the left side of the painting represents business and entertainment. The right side of the painting, with the church building in prominent display, suggests a more disciplined and holy way of living.
“Shrove” is derived from a word that means “absolve”. It is ironic that the day before Lent begins we are encouraged to do things for which we will be sorry tomorrow – things for which we might even have to beg forgiveness. The Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us: Remember – You are dust, and to dust you shall return. Maybe there is something to this notion of allowing the excesses of our lives to be held in tension with the invitation to a simpler, more disciplined way of doing things.
I don’t know how the comforts of today’s common folk compare to yesterday’s kings and queens; but when it comes to the distinction between “saints” and “sinners”, perhaps things haven’t really changed all that much.
A blessed “Shrove Tuesday”.