March 10, 2019: First Sunday of Lent - Pastor’s Corner
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was driven 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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone.” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. (Luke 4:1-13)
This first Sunday in Lent is an opportunity to enter into the desert with Jesus. The 40 days of Lent have often been characterized as a journey: a spiritual pilgrimage where we follow Christ from the desert of temptation, through his life of preaching to his Passion and death so that we might share with him the transforming joy of Resurrection on Easter morn.
It all begins with the desert. Before Jesus launches His public ministry, the Holy Spirit inspires him, even “drives” him, into the wasteland of wilderness where He is tempted. Whereas the Gospel of St. Mark simply mentions the fact, Sts. Matthew and Luke elaborate three specific temptations: turning stones into bread, performing a sort of miraculous bungee jump (without the bungee) off the temple pinnacle, and finally the lure to control the world by political power. Jesus responds to each enticement by quoting Scripture: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that come from the mouth of God”, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” and finally “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” (Mt. 4:1-11; Lk. 4:1-13) As a man, Jesus overcomes the devil’s wiles, not because he had miraculous motivation or super strength of will, but because He was empowered by the truth of Scripture. Jesus went into the desert to pray and fast. These spiritual exercises strengthened Him, so that when temptation came, He responded, not simply with His own desires, but with God’s words.
As we begin our Lenten practices and disciplines, we do well to remember that whenever we begin a spiritual journey, we will be tempted. Not to worry, though, temptations can be a sign of spiritual growth. The spiritual exercises that we undertake during Lent are not ends in themselves, but means by which we discover our weakness and once again have recourse to God’s grace. As Jesus took the time to commune with His Father and contemplate the truths of the Scripture, so too, we are called during these 40 days to come closer to God through prayer and fasting, by reading God’s Word and curbing those daily habits which do not encourage physical and spiritual health. This week we enter into the desert, but we don’t go alone. We journey WITH Christ. It is Christ who leads us; Christ who calls us; and, as we perhaps struggle with our own concrete Lenten commitments, it is Christ who encourages us to turn to him in moments of temptation. For when we are weak, it is then that His strength that enables us to keep moving, to take one more step towards the joy of Easter.