Whilst Jesus is fully divine, we must also remember that he is fully human, too. Today’s Gospel begins with the words: ‘Jesus was led by the spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ This was a difficult time for Jesus. He would have struggled. Indeed, Jesus did not submit to temptation, but he grappled, all the same, with all The temptations we face.
Let’s think for a moment about the actions of the Holy Spirit, who literally drove Christ out into the desert to face the devil. We know from this that it was God’s will. And for us, too, temptation plays a part in our own redemption. God uses it in our daily life to help us to become stronger, to make us more spiritually aware, to bring us closer to him. To know that Jesus went through the same tests as us is an encouragement. It helps us to keep going.
Jesus lived his life on the hem of the desert. This is a wilderness place, and it is no surprise that western monasticism itself developed from this solitary and barren landscape. We know that John the Baptist practiced his asceticism in the desert. We know that Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit to face his fears. Nearing the end of his life he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, which is on the outskirts of the desert, and whilst he made his decision to turn back to the disciples and face his accusers, perhaps he did take a furtive look into the desert whilst at prayer, wondering if he might just walk off and escape, never to be seen again.
In our own spirituality, the desert represents a place of being tested. It is not a hospitable place, as it lacks shelter and food and water and civilization and technology and temperate climate. The first monks went there both as a physical and a symbolic gesture to relieve themselves of all that did not matter. It became for them a fusion of renunciation, facing one’s fears, living for God alone and mortification.
In this season of Lent, we are to find our desert place. We know, yes, that we shall be tested, but live in hope that Jesus went through the same experience. In our desert, we have the ability to meet God in a real way, to make the barren landscape – as the Psalmist calls it – a place of springs. We do this by renouncing some of what we love. We do this so that we might better give to charity. But we also do it to be reminded that God is supreme in our lives. We might give more time to silent prayer. we might go and visit the Blessed Sacrament more often. Some of us are put-off by the silence in church, but silence is also the desert, and we can make that landscape a place of springs. We learn in the silence to hear the word of God, away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation.
And at the centre of this desert life, at the centre of our desire to come to Jesus, must be Love. The reason we turn from temptation, the reason we turn to God, the reason we face that silence, or go without, or make a Lenten decision to help others more, is Love. So, we ask for the grace this year to prepare for Easter in a good way, to love with all our hearts, to reach out to our neighbour in need, and to find that desert place in our own heart, and make it – through prayer and fasting – a place of springs.
A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew (4:1-11)
Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves’. But he replied, ‘Scripture says: ‘Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’.
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says: ‘He will put you in his angels’ charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone’.
Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says: ‘You must not put the Lord your God to the test’.
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says: ‘You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.
The Gospel of the Lord.