Deut 26: 4-10; Luke 4: 1-13
I say it every year as a good reminder, that this gospel reminds us how careful we should be about using Scripture against someone knowing that the devil knows scripture and uses scripture as well as anyone. We can never forget that point. The readings this weekend, though, point us to one reality and that is that there is one God and that it’s not me and it’s not you but we struggle with a daily temptation thinking otherwise. Like most things, we have a way of even making the temptations into something superficial. We limit it often to what we can see, of the flesh, habits we must break, but we never move to the deeper questions that ask why I’m so easily tempted and from where within me do they arise, often these crazy desires that we sometimes face and, rather easily, submit to in our lives. There can be a lot of truth in the statement that the devil made me do it. Of course, as long as we accept that the devil is within me.
But the temptations that Jesus seems to face in today’s gospel don’t sound like anything that we encounter and so can come off as being disconnected from our own humanity. But his temptations go beyond what he can see with his eyes, even though the devil shows him in that way. Let’s recall how the story unfolds because it is the Spirit that leads Jesus out into the desert. Of course, the desert has great meaning to the people as they recall the events of the exodus in the first reading today. The desert becomes that most vulnerable place within, where we are somewhat in limbo and experiencing great vulnerability. We know what it’s like. There’s not much life, or so it seems. It’s hot and can be quite cold. It would make any of us uneasy. But it is precisely in this God-sized hole, our own interior desert, that the Spirit also tries to lead us, to our own place of vulnerability, to a deeper hunger that reveals the depths of the temptations in our own lives.
But it’s the place we’d rather not go. We like Lent the way it is, on the surface and making some little changes in my life knowing I can always go back to it come Easter, a temporary respite. Any of us can do something for forty days. But that’s not the point. I had mentioned yesterday that the Lent we are called to and the fast that we are called to is much more radical, a fast that the prophetic voices preach and lose their lives for. What we are called to fast from and change is from the injustices that happen around us all the time and our participation in the injustices. On a deeper level, there is greed. On a deeper level, there is safety. On a deeper level, within this God-sized hole, there is all this activity that catapults our world into war and famine and how easy it is to turn a blind eye to it all, actively participating so often by doing nothing. Worse yet, we have often made virtues out of some of them, such as greed, that we become so blinded by it that we consciously give into it because we’ve decided it’s something good. How blind we can become and how easily we can be swayed into believing something is not true, all in the name of virtue, happening in the world and Church. We can never call out big money lest we be called out, nor can we say anything against war. Oh, how much easier it is to keep Lent on the surface and never examining where these desires come from and why we are led to such blindness.
But there is that deeper hunger within and that Jesus experiences after forty days in the desert. Again, it’s paramount the experience in the desert. We hear that recounting of the exodus from Deuteronomy today. They too fell into that trap, people Israel, in thinking that they can be god. They buy into the lie that they can do it alone, despite being up against such opposition in facing the same realities in their lives that we do in war and famine, abuse of power and willing it over others. Gradually they too had to be led to that same place, to their own vulnerability and a confrontation with their own inner hunger before they can surrender themselves over to the one true God, the one that leads from death to life.
The Spirit not only leads Jesus to the desert. That same Spirit will lead Jesus to the Garden which we will hear on Palm Sunday. It’s the same Spirit that leads him to the Cross, the most vulnerable and humiliating of places for anyone, including Jesus, only to hand himself over, not only to the hands of the authorities but to hand his life over to the Supreme Authority in God. The temptations Jesus faces in the desert are central to our own lives but we must be willing to go to the same place and allow the Spirit to lead. The only way we change and seek conversion in our lives is to go to that place, below the surface of our superficial temptations that we’ve vowed to give up for at least forty days, and to go to the place of injustice. It’s not just the injustice out there. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that I must confront. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that needs change and conversion.
As we enter into this season we pray for the Spirit to lead us where it wills, in particular, to the place of vulnerability, to the God-sized hole within that we try to fill. It never works and deep down we know it, but the temptation to be God is also very real and convinces us as it tries Jesus that we’re something and someone that we are not. There is but one God and it is that one God that changes hearts and souls to be more like Him. We pray this is a time to fast from injustice, to feel and experience the Cross within, so that we too may be transformed into a new life, a life we have been created for in serving the one true God in this world and to build up not our own kingdom, but the Kingdom of that God.