Scripture for the first Sunday of Lent: Genesis 2.15–17 3.1–7; Psalm 32; Romans 5.12–19; Matthew 4.1–11
Does our preference in taking pictures say something about our personalities? Some people like pure landscapes; others prefer photos populated with people. The landscape without people, one definition of wilderness, can at times seem appealing – a place of solitude and quiet.
I have to confess a certain personal affinity for the wilderness. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve become accustomed to the tranquility of nature – of the inner peace that can be fostered by outer peace – by the feeling of proximity to the creator that undistracted immersion in the creation can offer.
The story of Jesus in the wilderness can appear confusing to those unfamiliar with Christ’s story. What was Jesus doing there? Who was the devil? Why was Jesus talking to him? How do we relate to the depiction of satan (accuser, tempter) as a distinct being? I find that, “The devil made me do it,” can be a bit of a cop-out – an abdication of personal responsibility.
The temptations that Jesus faced are not primarily about facing some ghastly external being. There is certainly an element of inexplicable evil in the world, but much originates with a voice within us. The temptations faced by Jesus come from within, and are basically faced by all of us. They are, quite simply, pride, power and possession.
We are all beguiled by some form of pride, power and possession. And we don’t need an external devil to present them to us. There’s the voice within that more often leads us astray.
Jesus was tempted to be noticed, to be useful, to be in control. He responded by placing spiritual nourishment before bodily nourishment, by putting trust in God before testing God, by putting faithfulness to God before personal prosperity. Above all, his relationship with God is primary. He does all this instinctively, in total unity with God, the Creator
Having responded in this way, he had to go off to deal with the ramifications of the temptations, and to face them again, in the course of his earthly ministry – this time, in the company of others, whom he came to lead and serve. The forty months of ministry that followed forty days in the wilderness must at times have made him wish to be back in solitude, focused purely on his relationship with God. Yet, despite fueling his ministry with times of prayer, he chose to place himself in a portrait with people rather than alone in a landscape.
As we begin our Lenten journey – together – let us remember that we need wilderness time to connect to our spiritual roots. But we also need to come out of the wilderness in readiness to be with and journey with one another. Quiet, silent times are to be set in a context of community. We are all connected in the temptations of pride, power and possession.
Our Lenten journey is something we undertake together. The Lenten journey is, in the end, the way of the Cross: facing our temptations in solidarity as followers of Christ’s way.