5th Sunday of Lent – March 18, 2018

The Staples office supply company has a series of television commercials that depict the common experience of running short of office supplies at the most inopportune time. In the commercials, a salesperson from Staples comes to the rescue of a hapless customer by recommending the “Easy Button.” The “Easy Button” is a marketing strategy that illustrates how easy it is to obtain all your computer and office supplies from Staples.

Someone actually had the smart idea to manufacture and sell a gag gift version of the “Easy Button.” You can get one for about $15. The world would be truly an easy, carefree, and pleasant place if the button actually delivered with ease everything that the user wanted. Unfortunately, the $15 button does nothing more than say “Easy!”

I am a fully satisfied Staples customer, and I’m fully in favor of ease of use when it comes to computers, machinery, transportation, commerce and the other conveniences available widely today. There are, however, limits to the experiences that can or should be easy.

No one would trust a doctor who looked at a compound fracture of an arm or leg, and said, “Easy! We’ll just wait until it sets itself.” I wouldn’t trust a tax accountant who said, “Easy! We’ll just give the IRS access to your debit account and let them withdraw as much as they want.” I don’t think anyone would trust a pharmacist who said, “Easy! I’ll just pick a medication for you at random from these shelves.”

Effort is never easy, but often required. This Sunday’s Scripture readings speak about an activity that required effort and another that deserves an effort.

This Sunday’s three Scripture readings describe, each in their own way, the long history of God’s efforts to call and sanctify a people who would put their full trust in God. Jeremiah, who had a profound influence on Jesus’ preaching, prophesied about the messianic age when God’s will would be written in the hearts of God’s People. (Jer. 31:33) This prophecy grew out of more than a thousand years of Israelite religious history, and it looked forward to a time yet to come when God’s Kingdom would come in its fullness on earth.

The second reading and the Gospel describe how God brought about God’s will that all should be redeemed. Through his life and death, Jesus brought God’s redemption to “all who obey him.” (Jn. 12:33, Heb. 5:9)

God’s plan of salvation was not concocted in a heavenly panic, as a last-minute attempt to respond to human sinfulness. Rather, God worked consistently for millennia through prophets and religious leaders to bring God’s People to repentance and faith. After the long period of preparation by the prophets, God sent Jesus as redeemer for all.

None of the patriarchs or prophets had an easy time obeying or proclaiming God’s word. Jesus certainly didn’t take any shortcuts in bringing God’s offer of reconciliation to the world. Would anyone really want an easy, slapdash version of salvation? No sensible person would trust a promise of salvation that said, “Easy! Just cut a few corners, and you’ll probably attain some vague semblance of forgiveness.”

There are those who preach short, easy, and certain versions of salvation. These schemes, and promises of secret spiritual advantages, are not only silly, they are a rejection of God’s will. It was necessary for God to expend great effort to reveal God’s nature and God’s will to the world. It is equally necessary for us to expend great effort to learn who God is and how God wants us to live.

There is every reason to believe that purchasing office supplies and other commodities should be easy. On the other hand, there is every reason to distrust promises of easy salvation. It is God’s will that we spend our whole lives imitating the apostles who had to make an effort to see Jesus. (Jn. 12:21)

Lent illustrates precisely how we should expend our efforts. Lent encourages us to practice daily prayer, daily Scripture reading, almsgiving, and repentance. None of these are easy, but they do amount to real faith rather than a cheap knock-off imitation of the Apostolic faith.

No one should ever trust a version of religion that says, “Easy! You can make up your own formula for Divine forgiveness.” The Cross of Jesus is the only reliable source of reconciliation; it’s worth our effort to pick up the Cross and follow in Jesus’ footsteps every day.