Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 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 splendor; 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.
This past summer, I was blessed to make my second pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I have to say that this second trip was just as profound an experience as the first one. Geographically the Holy Land is quite small, but spiritually it holds riches for the pilgrim that are inexhaustible. However, I must admit, that the most powerful spiritual place I encountered on this pilgrimage was once again the Judean desert.
For me there is something pure and eternal about the 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 hint of the loneliness and isolation he must have felt for those 40 days and 40 nights.
I’ve said this before, but 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 speak the truth to my spouse today?
Have I treated my employees fairly or am I too consumed by my own self-interest? Will the stress and anxiety I feel be expressed by me as anger and frustration with those I love?
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 as I said in a recent sermon, we are all just Christians under construction and the season of Lent is a reminder that our God forgives. We may turn from God in sin, but we can turn back as well, that is literally what it means to repent. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, our God waits not to judge us but to embrace us, to welcome us home as the beloved children of God that we are.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions only too well, and my sin is ever before me. Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us. Amen.