“Filled with the Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.”
This is Luke’s introduction to the account of the temptation of Jesus. To get a clearer understanding of the temptations to come, we need to understand this introduction.
John had just baptized Jesus along with the crowd that gathered at the Jordan River. Afterwards, as Jesus prayed, the voice of the Father anointed him for his mission. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit then descended upon him in form of a dove, recalling Noah’s sending out a dove as the water resided, revealing a new world.
He immediately retreated to the desert and remained there alone for forty days. Luke comments that Jesus ate nothing during that time. It’s impossible for anyone to live without food for that length of time. What could Luke be saying by noting this? This time in the desert was a period of gestation. Jesus had been anointed for a mission by the Father and fortified for its execution by the Holy Spirit. Now, he had to do some inner work. He had to ponder his mission, his father’s will for him. When he con
cluded that time in the desert, he left hungry to begin his mission. That was his food he yearned for. As he would later tell his disciples, “My food is to do the will of my Father.” (John 4:34)
Taking his first steps out of the desert he was confronted by the dark energy he was appointed to battle against. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Here’s the temptation. Jesus’ mission is directed to the human heart. His miracles and healings will certainly get people’s attention, and relieve some personal suffering. But Jesus was anointed to address deeper needs. “One does not live on bread alone.” His mission is to feed the heart, to bring new and deeper life to the spirit.
A second assault followed. Jesus was shown the glory and power of the great kingdoms of the world. The vision was a bribe. All Jesus had to do was to embrace the dark power that rules the earth. But Jesus was anointed to plant the seed of the kingdom of God in the midst of its darkness. God’s kingdom is one marked by unity and harmony, of justice and peace. It’s in direct opposition to the dark power that controls the world. Jesus’ answer came: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
The last temptation is a prelude to the
agony that Jesus would experience in the garden. The tempter twisted the words of Psalm 91, words of comfort and reassurance of God’s fidelity, into a challenge. “Throw yourself down from here for it is written, ‘he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you.’” Jesus’ response was quick and to the point. “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Later on, Jesus leaned on the support this psalm conveyed when he prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.” In spite of his fear, Jesus submitted himself totally to the will of his Father.
Why does the Church ask us to reflect on this passage to begin the season of Lent? We’re beginning a forty-day retreat, a time of spiritual rejuvenation, a time of reflection on our mission as disciples of Christ. We tend to forget that as disciples we stand in total opposition to the powers of darkness, to the world. In order to accomplish our mission, we, like Jesus, have to submit our will to the Father. This is what Lent is all about. Getting in sync with Christ, uniting our wills with the Father.
As I write this reflection, the powers of darkness are ravaging Ukraine. Those same powers are dividing the country we live in. Many Christians have succumbed to the darkness. Christians are among those invading Ukraine. Christians are among those dividing our country. Christians are among those peddling lies and spewing hatred, division, and racism. Many Christians have fallen. Many Christians have been consumed by the darkness.
Now more than ever, every one of us needs time in the desert. Every one of us needs to recoup, to recommit ourselves to Christ and his gospel of peace and harmony, of sacrificial love. Let’s be brave. This Lent, let’s proclaim with Christ, “I have conquered the world.”