Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
A couple of years ago, I made my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a profound experience. Since then, many people have asked me what part of the trip I found most powerful; was it the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Mount of Olives, the Via Dolorosa? While I found many of Christianity’s holiest sites deeply moving, I have to admit that the most powerful spiritual place I encountered on my pilgrimage was the Judean desert. Centuries of religious art and architecture have grown up around so many of the sites in the Holy Land, but the desert is unchanged, unaffected by 2000 years of Christian devotion. To stand in the desert is to see what Jesus saw, to hear what he heard, to feel just a smidgeon of the loneliness and isolation he must have felt for those 40 days and 40 nights.
The truth is, the story of Jesus’ journey in the desert is really our story. We may never find ourselves alone in the Judean wilderness. We may never hear the devil’s voice in our ear. But this story is our story. It is the human story. From the moment we rise in the morning until the moment we close our eyes to sleep at night, we are bombarded by temptations and the choices those temptations bring. Will I be fully honest in my response to a question my spouse asks me? Have I treated my employees fairly? Do I have this glass of wine because I enjoy it, or am I trying to anesthetize myself to avoid dealing with something?
Jesus left the desert after 40 days having made all the right choices, but we aren’t Jesus. We often make the wrong choices; I know I do. And with each wrong choice we turn ourselves away from God. But the season of Lent is a reminder that our God forgives, and that with each act of repentance, we re-turn ourselves to God and have yet another chance to be like Jesus.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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