First Sunday of Lent
Temptations in the Desert
By Sister Mary Kathleen Burns
Jesus went off into the desert for 40 days to be tempted. Forty in Scripture always signifies a time of birthing, when something new is coming forth, or when God acting in a powerful way through humans. It is, after all, the full term of human gestation- 40 weeks. So something is coming forth here and Jesus is that Fruit which is both God and Man who is now coming out of the desert as if again from the womb.
The desert is a place of gestation, of birth, growth and testing. Jesus is challenged on the deepest level of his being and self-understanding. From there, He will come forth with a clear understanding of His identity and his mission. But how did he get there? And how were Satan’s attacks targeting Jesus’ deepest desires?
The First Temptation: Turning these Stones into Bread.
Here, Satan would like Jesus to focus on his own needs and desires. “Turn your ministry in on yourself!” Satan says. Paradoxically, the Jesus who would multiply loaves and fishes for a starving crowd would himself become our food in Eucharist. Jesus’ identity as the Bread of Life is already prefigured here, along with the necessity of his being broken in order to be shared.
The Second Temptation: Throw yourself off the Parapet and Defy Death.
Jesus is the Lord of Life and He came to give life to the fullest. Jesus was offered a way to show that he could not die without actually having to pass through death. Death without suffering! Don’t we all hope for that? Jesus chose to pass through death, taking on our own vulnerability and fears, having finally let go of life as He knew it and loved it. In the garden of Gethsemane we see just what that decision in the desert cost him, sweating blood and tears at the thought of his impending death.
The Third Temptation: Worship the Devil and Inherit the Kingdom.
Jesus’ passion was His Father’s Kingdom. Satan offers, “Abandon your Father and I will give you the Kingdom immediately and painlessly.” But outside His Father’s love, the kingdom made no sense. In establishing the Kingdom, there is no easy way, there are no quick fixes. The Kingdom would have to be established over time, through suffering, much misunderstanding and ultimately through his own death.
In our own Lenten Journey, we can reflect:
- We are called to give without counting the cost: Do I give of myself in a way that is truly for others?
- Life comes from death: In what ways must I die so that I can be more alive?
- The Kingdom comes in stages: Am I patient with myself and others in the process?