Jesus Tempted in the Desert by James Tissot

Nature has always been a place of graced encounter with the Creator. The human person, as one created by God, is also the only part of creation upon whom God bestows his own image and likeness. Thus it follows that a truly graced place of encounter with God is precisely within one’s self – and in our encounters with one another. The experience of Jesus going to the desert for 40 days at the very beginning of his public ministry, while being tempted by the devil, is ultimately about his forging an intense relationship with God, the Father.

I would guess every person has experienced through nature moments of awe where the reality of God – the Creator – revealed himself – and the only response was one of silence and wonder. Whether that be a sunrise or sunset, a rare moment of enjoying the interaction of creatures of all kinds, the view of a mountain range, the beauty of the ocean, well, you get the idea! In such moments one has a deep awareness of the greatness of God and one’s own smallness, and yet, a profound ‘oneness’ with all of creation, and all is in harmony….

A smaller percentage of us have probably experienced a desert – and the rare beauty it presents. Deserts are a harsh environment, where very little can survive. And yet, in such a place which often extends the very real threat of death, the ‘inner life’ is the one thing that thrives. God dwells within the human person, within the heart, or soul, or conscience.

Thus at the beginning of his public ministry, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” (Mark 1) It was in this desert environment, amidst temptations, that Jesus forged the one thing necessary to accomplish his mission – the relationship with his Father – in the depths of his interior life. It is no wonder the Spirit is the one who led Jesus, because the Spirit IS the interior life of God.

It is also interesting to note that in the beginning of time, the human person lived in complete harmony with God and all that God created. But, by disobedience and the improper use of human freedom, we were ‘banished’ from the garden, into a world that seemingly became less and less friendly, somewhat a ‘desert’ from the harmony we are created to live with God. Thus, the starting point of Jesus public ministry is the very desert of our human existence, from which he begins to lead us back to the garden of resurrection and new life.

The Church Fathers at the Second Vatican Council recognized the significance of the human encounter with God, and the importance of the inner life. 

[One] plunges into the depths of reality whenever he enters into his own heart; God, Who probes the heart (cf. 1 Kgs 16:7; Jer 17:10), awaits him there; there he discerns his proper destiny beneath the eyes of God. (Gaudium et Spes #14)

My friends, this Lenten journey back to God involves our own ‘desert experience’ of entering the reality of our own life, to sit quietly before the gaze of God. But, we do not go through this desert alone. As St. Peter in the second reading today informs us, Christ’s experience of suffering for our sin was precisely so that ‘he might lead [us] to God.

Once Jesus completed his 40 days of contending with Satan, Jesus was ready to begin his ministry. Jesus, as the Son of God, living in our human flesh, contended with Satan, and now knows from his experience our own. Thus, filled with love, compassion and mercy, he begins his ministry with the words: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus has come to free us from sin. He knows first-hand the cunning and intelligence of the enemy of our human nature. His message to us is informative of what is necessary for our salvation, repentance for our sins, and most especially, faith in him and his message of Good News.

Christ as the Son of God prevailed over Satan’s temptations. He did so by relying on God, the Father. Remember his responses to Satan?

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. (Mt 4:4)
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. (Mt 4:7)
The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve. (Mt 4:10)

In our return to God this Lent, in our own journey through the desert of our interior life, let us discover anew the power that is ours in Christ. Let us learn from Christ how to weather the trials and temptations that are ours by placing our confidence in God alone. May our fasting renew our hunger for what alone satisfies, the Word of God, and the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

May repentance of our sins this Lent lead us to an earnest confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finally, may our Lenten practices renew and strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, who is our victory and restorer of life.

Let us continually hear and heed the words of Jesus: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”