Traditionally, the Season of Lent begins with the Gospel Reading of Jesus' temptations in the desert. We all know the story very well. The Lord ventured out into the wilderness for 40 days - a time He needed to spend alone in the presence of His Father. We imagine that He needed this time - to reflect, to pray, to prepare for the ministry that He came to Live.
During this short period of time, Tradition and Scripture tell us that He was baptized in the Jordan ("Here is my beloved Son"), and that He faced - and overcame - three temptations. Strengthened by His relationship with His Father, he returned to world, called together a rag-tag group of followers and, for the next three years, preached a message that would change the world.
No one really knows what happened in the desert wilderness those forty days so long ago - and the Gospel of Mark does very little to paint a complete picture; but this story reveals the humanity of Jesus in a way that no other passage does. All of us would rather be strong and satisfied than hungry and weak. We would rather be in the constant company of friends and family, than alone and afraid in an unfriendly and unknown atmosphere.
Very few of us would never even think of venturing out into the desert alone to begin with. But Jesus does. And He does knowing full well what's ahead of Him. And He also knows that this short period of time is absolutely necessary for Him to continue on with His ministry.
It is this experience that He will return to every time He "goes apart" to pray; He will remember the desert stones, as He watches His disciples bicker, and trip themselves up vying for "top honors" in the New Kingdom. He would see the broken promises of earthly kingdoms in the eyes and hearts of almost everyone around Him - including the chosen disciple turned betrayer. And He would think of how easy it would be to throw Himself down and just give up when it seemed that no one understood what He was trying to say.
Instead, He begins to preach the Gospel, with little fanfare - alone in the desert in prayer. And when He emerges, He throws Himself totally into the humanity around Him. He chooses simple men (and women) to be His spokespersons: fishermen, a tax collector, sinners, prostitutes, a persecutor and a traitor. All of them perfectly frail in their human-ness, and weak in their commitment. He watches them come together, grow together, laugh and cry with one another, argue and dissent with one another, and learn to love another. They become the nucleus of His ministry. And from their weaknesses and failures, He gave them strength, nourishment and victory.
The temptations of Christ in the desert are our temptations as well.
- We are all tempted to seek more than we need; "Man does not live by bread alone'." The Lord tells us. The Word and The Eucharist are sufficient to sustain us as a community.
- "All these kingdoms will be yours, if..." We are all called to be righteous and use whatever power we have for the good of others. Yet it's easy for us to become self-righteousness, content with our own answers and solutions.
- There are days when we feel like giving up - when we ask ourselves why we even bother... throwing ourselves down, throwing in the towel becomes an easy way out. But Jesus tells us by example not to give up, to keep going - even in the midst of uncertainty.
Let this Lent become for you a desert experience. Take the chance, venture out into the darkness. Take some time to pray, to "reach out in the darkness," to reflect - to let the Father speak. (That means we have to listen!)
Let this season become the point which will buoy you when times seem at their lowest, when you feel your loneliest or when you recognize your weakness most acutely.
Let us all learn from the example of Jesus: pray, reflect, prepare for the Easter victory, and return from our personal desert experience prepared - perhaps just a little better - to face the daily reality of our lives.