Each year we hear the same Gospel story on the first Sunday of Lent, the story of Jesus’ struggle with Satan in the desert. In each of the synoptic Gospels, this story appears immediately after the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. In that story, a voice proclaims: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This complimentary message expresses great honor for the man Jesus. Every Mediterranean native, people who have a deeply rooted belief in the spirit world, would expect that the spirits would test Jesus to see if the compliment was true. St. Luke portrays Jesus just as John the Baptist had been presenting him in his preaching. Jesus is “the more powerful one” whom John predicted would come after him.
Three times, Jesus is tempted to do something which would make him a displeasing Son. Each time Jesus counters with a quotation from Scripture to vanquish the temptation. The devil also quotes Scripture, but loses the verbal sparring and departs “until an opportune time.”
The temptation story is based upon and carefully crafted after the pattern of Israel’s temptations in the desert during its Exodus from Egypt. The temptation to produce bread recalls Israel’s hunger in the wilderness and God’s graciousness in supplying the people with manna. The temptation to accept authority over the whole of the civilized world recalls the injunction that Israel should remember that God gave them the land; they did not win it for themselves. The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy also recalls this fact for the children of Israel. Finally, the temptation to test God’s promise of protection recalls Israel’s “testing” of God at Meribah.
By thwarting the attempts of the devil, Jesus proves that he is what Israel was supposed to be. Jesus is the good Son, the one who overcomes the very temptations which the Israelites failed during their time in the desert.
There is no reason to believe that the temptations that we experience are anything like the temptations of Jesus. He is the more powerful one; so the temptations that he experiences are particular to him. However, we all know what it is like to be tempted. During this Lenten Season we are asked to face off with the devil who seeks to tempt us away from our covenant with God, a covenant made at our baptism, the sacrament which brings us the fruits of the faith which we believe in our hearts and which we profess with our mouths as Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans. At the end of Lent, as we celebrate the Sacred Triduum, we will renew our baptismal vows, thereby renewing our covenant of faith with God who desires that we should be beloved daughters and sons in whom God is well pleased.
It is usual for each of us to do something special during the Lenten Season, forty days long, just as Jesus spent forty days in the desert. The sisters decorate the sanctuary of the chapel with reminders of this time in the desert. This time of penance and prayer and of charity toward others finds its culmination in the celebration of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the solemn vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday. This sacred time finds its completion in those three sacred days. So the sisters and I would like to recommend that as we start this Lenten journey, we also plan to attend the liturgies of Holy Week in which we remember that Jesus left us the Eucharist as a pledge to remain with us, died on the cross to save us from our sins, and rose from the dead to share with us the gift of eternal life with God who has given us all that we need to live as beloved daughters and sons. In that way, we bring a fitting conclusion to our own sojourn in this metaphorical desert wherein we find the strength to turn away from sin and believe the Good News of the Gospel.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator