The desert. That is where Jesus went, filled by the Holy Spirit, immediately following his baptism at John the Baptist’s hands in the Jordan. After thirty years, he was supposed to begin his public ministry. He should have been more than eager to get going with his mission. After all, there was a whole world to be saved! But being rushed is not God’s way of doing things. It was necessary that, after leaving his mother’s home, Jesus goes first through that desert-experience. There he would be alone, with himself, with his God, and with his demon! In the desert there are no distractions. There one has to focus on surviving, without having any of that which would have been called “normal” in everyday live. It is not easy, and it is no wonder that, as Luke tells us, there Jesus was tempted for forty days. That’s right, every single day of this desert experience was marked by temptation!
We do not know what kind of temptations these were. Maybe he was being tempted to get out of there, to get stuck into his ministry. Or perhaps to just do something more “constructive”. Whatever they were, at the end Luke presents us with the three main, final temptations.
“If you are the Son of God”, the devil tells Jesus in the first temptation. Our immediate response would have probably been an immediate “of course I am”, and prove it. But Jesus did not give in. In spite of the hunger, he knew that he would only take orders from the Father. After all, material possessions are not what is really indispensable. Then comes the temptation of power and glory. “I will give you everything”, the devil tells him. But Jesus knows that his knees should bend only before his God, from whom everything in reality comes. Jesus knows that, in truth, the devil could give him nothing. Finally Jesus is told to jump off the top of the temple, forcing God to do something about it then. Again, Jesus did not give in. He knew that God would not abandon him, but he also knew that God is not like a magic button to be pushed whenever one feels like it.
In the desert, Jesus had to make choices. Rather than being defeated, Jesus’ temptations in the desert highlight who he really is, where his focus is, and what are his priorities. If there was any doubt, things are much clearer now.
Like Jesus, we, too, are invited to move into the desert as we embark on our own journey. There we have no choice but to leave everything behind. No phones, no TV, no internet. Just me with my very self and with my God. And there, of course, I am going to meet my own demons, as I cannot run away into my usual distractions of everyday life. Like Jesus, I have to make choices.
Often our temptations are not very different to those experienced by Jesus. Having more material possessions, more comfort, is always tempting. There is always a need, a hunger, that can be created. The desert helps me to know what is really indispensable and what is a created need. And who could say that he’s never been tempted by power and glory. It’s enough to see how we react when people speak bad against me, tarnish my glory, to understand how real this temptation is. And, finally, how often have we been tempted to make God do whatever we ask Him in our prayers, rather than pray that we humbly enter into God’s dream for us?
Let us not be afraid to create some “desert-space” in our busy lives during this Lent. It helps us understand who we really are, what is really important for us, where our values lie. It helps create clarity in our lives.