Fresh from his baptism, Jesus sets out to fast and pray in the desert where he is tempted by the Devil. By overcoming the temptations, he gives us a model to deal with temptations and sin. The Lord spends forty days in the desert – a period symbolic of great physical and spiritual challenges. The Great Flood lasted forty days (Gen.7: 4, 17), and so did Moses’ fast on Mount Sinai (Ex.34:28). The spies sent by Moses spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan (Num.14:34); Elijah’s fasted for forty days (1 Kings 19:8); and Nineveh was given forty days to repent by Jonah (Jonah 3:4). In the desert, the devil sought to derail Jesus’ mission by making him deceptive offers. Talking about the Devil, contrary to what many think, he is not some creepy, fearsome-looking creature lurking in the dark. Rather, the Devil is that cunning, powerful, and attractive appeal to our disordered appetites. The Devil is the force that tricks us into trading our eternal happiness for fleeting pleasures. It plays on our need for security, power and influence, and for acceptance and prestige. The Devil plays on our inclination for sensuality, arrogance, and vanity – our longing for pleasure, power, or popularity. When that happens, we put an artificial limit on our fruitfulness and happiness. We become less than we truly are: we love less, we learn less; we have less joy, less enthusiasm, and less creativity. We become prisoners of our desires!
The Devil’s subtle offer gives us a false sense of security and that’s the reason supposedly smart people do stupid things. In reality, the devil only gives us a partial image of the truth but garnished with glamorous lies. He always tries to distract us from our life’s mission, using the same strategy as with Jesus to pin our minds on fleeting pleasures. Based on this illusion, we crave to impress, we develop the need to be needed by others, and we strive to build bridges where there are no rivers, just to win human approval. And because we worry so much about what others are thinking or saying, we go overboard trying to polish our image. But, if only we realized what glory truly awaits us in heaven, we would not dare to offend God trying to impress anyone. And we would not dare to be overconfident or presumptuous of our human strength. We would always go for the full picture and be able to see temptation for what it is – an attempt to derail our mission through our desires. How many of us fall into the error of thinking that regular Mass attendance, sacred ordination or religious consecration confers an “aristocracy of grace” on us – making us invincible? Such a mindset blinds us to glaring occasions of sin, and we ultimately fall.
In today’s readings two images stand out, which show us the path to a deep and fruitful observance of Lent. First is the image of desert. The Gospel passage has is that the Spirit took Jesus into the desert to be tempted. In Scripture, “desert” is often symbolizes a place of testing, where we acknowledge our inadequacies and need for God. It is a place lacking in food and water, and a place of harsh temperatures and desolation. There, our illusions of self-sufficiency and comfort fade away, and we quickly realize that we need God. The desert is the opposite of the Garden of Eden – a place of suffering and hardship caused by sin. The second image it that of flood, the plenitude of water that cleansed the world of sin at the time of Noah. That primordial flood prefigured Christian baptism which purifies our souls from sin and brings a new life into the desert of our sin-damaged hearts. The desert and the flood are powerful images of sin and salvation – the most fundamental aspects of our Catholic faith and we will do well to bear these images in mind this Lent.
After his desert experience, Jesus launches his public ministry aimed at rescuing humanity the desert of sin and alienation, and to restore us to the fullness of grace and divine life. In his first homily he declares that: “The time has come.” He reminds us of our final destiny in heaven and that repentance is the way to get there. These two tasks should characterize our spiritual lives this Lenten period. Jesus calls us to repentance, and he also gives us the perfect way to proceed: The Sacrament of Reconciliation! The Devil that tempted our Lord in the desert is still busy, tempting us in the desert of our concupiscence. Repentance and confession give God a chance to pour his unconditional mercy into our thirsty souls. Jesus also asks us to believe in his message, and that means trusting him enough to do his will; it means saying in every area of our life: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” The will of Christ is in the Ten Commandments, the beatitudes, the teachings of his Church, as well as our conscience. On the contrary, greed, lust, laziness, impatience, dishonesty, gossips are contrary to the message of Jesus. We must leave them aside in favour of generosity, faithfulness, responsibility, sincerity, and kindness.
Dear friends, repenting and believing in the Gospel keep us united to Christ and help us to overcome temptations like he did, as Scripture says that: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb. 2:18) We must, therefore, resolve to resist temptation with all our might, knowing that our faithful God will not let us be tempted beyond our power to resist. As we ponder these words, let us pray: Lord, may your light conquer the darkness of ignorance in us, and let not temptation ever quench the fire that your love had kindled in our hearts! Amen!