It's always been striking to me that in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that the first place that Jesus goes to after his baptism in the Jordan River was to the desert. Since we are in Year C of the Lectionary Cycle on Sundays we will be hearing a lot from the Gospel according to St. Luke. The First Sunday of Lent for 2019 draws from the third Gospel of the New Testament and states it quite succinctly, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1).
Our Lord and Savior went from the cool waters of the Jordan River, where he had heard the words of his Heavenly Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22) to the hot and dry desert where he would be tempted by the voice of the Father of Lies. At the Jordan River Jesus was surrounded by his cousin John the Baptist and the crowds who were seeking to be baptized. In the desert he was alone for forty days with the scorching sand, the driving winds, and the devil seeking a way to cause him to sin. Jesus was tempted to make his own daily bread, to be self-reliant, and to commit the egregious error of idolatry. Drawing upon passages from Sacred Scripture the Living Word Incarnate, that is to say Jesus himself, was able to reject the lies of those temptations and speak to the Truth. He stood firm in the reality that he indeed was, is, and always shall be the Beloved Son of his Heavenly Father.
As Catholic Christians we are entering into this holy time of prayer, penance, and purification. Like Jesus we are entering into the proverbial desert of the Lenten Season. Over the course of the next forty plus days we shall be tested and tried and tempted in varying ways. When faced with great difficulties and the lies of the Evil One we can always return to the example of Christ. He is the source of “living water” (John 4:10) and the Holy One who can truly satisfy our hunger and thirst. We will be hungry and thirsty throughout the desert days of Lent in a literal sense and in a spiritual sense. Like Jesus we will face temptations that could lead us to emptiness and hopelessness. However, with the Grace that comes from Jesus we can affirm our identity as a beloved son or a beloved daughter of our Heavenly Father.
We can reject those lies that will come our way to rely solely on ourselves or to seek trifles when the Lord wants to share with us the riches of His Mercy. A beautiful prayer to keep us on track throughout the desert days of Lent is the same one that Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). Within the “Our Father” we declare that we are not really alone in the desert but we have a Father in Heaven who wants to help us with our “daily bread” and to give us the strength to “forgive others who trespass against us.” He will “lead us not into temptation” but will provide us with the way to “deliver us from [the Evil One].” Through our daily moments of self-denial and confident acts of faith in God we shall make it through the dryness of the desert to reach the joyous celebrations of the Easter Season. May Jesus bless you with his peace and send forth the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Fr James Peterson