“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”
From Sunday’s Gospel Matthew 4:1-11
Upon his baptism, verse one of today’s Gospel states, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus’ glorious moment of being baptized, which was not for remission of sin as we are but to initiate the transition from his hidden life to his public ministry, a moment in which the Spirit descended like a dove and the voice of the Father indicates his favor upon his beloved, seems to be short lived. Soon after his baptism, God allowed Jesus to be tested. Whether it be in the primordial garden as we hear in the first reading or any of the modern influences that lead us to sin today, we too experience temptation as part of our human experience.
After fasting for 40 days and nights, Jesus’ whole being was racked with hunger. The 40 days and nights remind us of Moses and Elijah’s 40 day fasts and of the Hebrew People’s 40 years in the desert before crossing into the Promised Land. When tempted to turn stones into bread, Jesus offers the quote listed above which comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In that context, the people had just received the Ten Commandments; God wanted to ensure that they would be faithful to his law. We hear in Deuteronomy 8:2, “remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone . . .” Those who remained faithful to God through the hunger and setbacks encountered in the desert were rewarded by the manna that symbolized God’s care for them. Jesus too accepts this discipline as a means to grow in faith and trust.
Each of us experiences temptation in our lives. Sometimes it comes from thinking the grass is greener on the other side or a search for what we think will bring happiness but what instead only brings fleeting pleasure. Whether tempted to satiate our sense of pleasure, or of needing attention (the second temptation) or of seeking power (the third one), Lent is our time to enter the desert to strip away any false illusions we may be clinging to and open ourselves to enter into a radical trust that God indeed will provide.