1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
The Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the desert. Why? Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Messiah. Why must he endure 40 days of hunger, thirst, and loneliness? He doesn't need the discipline to help him repent of his sins. He is sinless. He doesn't need the time alone with God the Father b/c he is God the Son. Satan knows who he is, so there's no need for Jesus to prove his identity to himself or the Enemy. What makes our question even more interesting and infuriating is that Mark uses the Greek verb, ἐκβάλλει (ekballei) which means “casts out.” The same verb used to describe what Jesus does the demons he encounters in his ministry. So, in the same way that Jesus casts out demons, so the Holy Spirit casts Jesus out into the wilderness. There's an almost dismissive or casual sense that Jesus is being “thrown away,” tossed out like garbage. But to get the full picture here we need to remember where Jesus is heading next. He goes to Galilee and begins to preach, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Before he can endure his passion in Jerusalem and die on the cross at Calvary, he must be made ready. We too must be made ready. And Jesus shows us the way.
We can think of Jesus' time in the desert in the same way that we think about his baptism. The Messiah, sinless and unable to sin, doesn't need to be baptized. Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is God's way of revealing His Son to us; His way of announcing to the world that His Christ has arrived. Jesus forty days in the desert didn't need to happen either; that is, he didn't need to endure all that for his own sake. He did it for us. He did it to reveal himself – his true nature and purpose – before he set off to Galilee to begin his public ministry. What this scene in the wilderness tells us about our Lord is that though he cannot be properly tempted, he knows that we can. He knows that the power of the Devil – though real – is ultimately temporary and deceiving. And he know that when we place ourselves at the mercy of Father, we will be ministered to by the choirs of angels. None of this knowing on Jesus' part prevents us from actually feeling hunger, thirst, loneliness, or pain. Our knowing that we can be tempted doesn't make enduring temptation any easier. Knowing the Devil's power is deceptive or that we are ministered to by angels makes the preparation for our own passion and death any more pleasant.
BUT knowing that Christ has gone before us and is with us now, makes any trial here and now endurable. Knowing that Christ is with us when we fast, when we pray, when we give what we have to others, knowing he is with us always and everywhere, that makes our troubles more than endurable. . .it makes them sacrificial. When do as he did and speak as he spoke, and when we do and speak in his name for his sake, we follow faithfully behind, picking up his work and his words, and we bear witness in the world to the love that made it possible for him to die on a cross for us. His forty days in the wilderness with Satan and the wild beasts was our preparation, the preparation of his future body, the Church, to carry on with his ministry. And, thanks be to God, we do not minister alone. The same spirit that drives Jesus into the desert, the same spirit that saw the angels minister to him, and the same spirit that set the apostles to fire at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that binds us together now in the Church.
Make these forty days of Lent a time for preparation for your own passion and death. It may sound a bit morbid. But think: death misses no one; no one gets out of here alive. Take this season to heart and spend the time necessary to dig deep into your relationship with God. He loves you. Do you love Him? If there is sin in your life that prevents you from receiving His love, confess it, repent, and believe the Gospel! If there is temptation pestering you, name it and face it. Call on the Holy Spirit for help. That's His job. If you are attached to something that has become a god, an idol for you, sacrifice it – make it holy by giving it up. Fast and pray. There is no better way to see the deceptive power of the Enemy than through the eyes of fasting and prayer. Give what you have to others. There is no better way to destroy the power of attachment than to surrender whatever it is you believe you can't live without. Jesus did it all before us, he did it all for us. And, now, it's our turn to prepare. Prepare well. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”
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