Yesterday was the first Sunday of Lent. Which means that means a whole bunch of us sat in a church somewhere and heard a certain gospel narrative describing Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. And by a whole bunch I mean approximately 63 million of us (for what it’s worth, this year about 111 million people watched the Superbowl).
In my experience the reading of the gospel is one of the very few times during a church service when just about everyone is paying close attention. Imagine this. Every Sunday (not just one Supersunday a year) 63 million people paying close attention to the same story from Holy Scripture within a matter of hours. On any given day that’s a lot of people paying attention to (more or less) one thing. As for yesterday that’s a lot of people paying attention to temptation.
These are pretty reliable statistics. According to recent polling by a couple of major research institutions (one of them Gallup) about 180 people on average attend about 350,000 congregations in the U.S. every Sunday. I’m guessing that a majority of these are made up of what we call mainline congregations – Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations that are using similar lectionary cycles to determine their Sunday morning readings. While these cycles sometimes differ they almost all agree on one major issue – the reading from the gospel.
OK… so take out all the variables or the questions that are running through your head (that want to make this number smaller) and imagine with me that you have an audience of, say, half the amount above – 31.5 million people – every Sunday morning. Never mind the feeding of the four or five thousand (not including women and children) and the opportunity that Jesus had for preaching on that day. The little “c” catholic and apostolic Church (not including Africa, Asia or Europe), when it reads the Holy Gospel, holds the rapt attention of more than 31.5 million people every Sunday.
Like I said, never mind those puny little feedings in all four canonical Gospels. Or the fact that the church changed the world with what started as twelve faithful disciples. Today we’re talking about the feeding of the 31 million. You’d think we’d be setting off minor revolutions every weekend. You’d think we be turning the world upside down by now. You’d think there would be headlines: 31.5 million hear Truth. World Soon To Change You’d think, at the very least, that the world wouldn’t be groaning from hunger pains…
Given these statistics, and the fact that it’s Lent, we’re tempted to wonder: Do those of us in the church understand how powerful our adversary really is? Do we know where he resides? While teaching so many others about denial have we become quite adept at it ourselves?
Happy First Monday in Lent,