“THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEMPTATIONS OF JESUS
Jesus’ own period of 40 days in the desert introduces us to the meaning of Lent, for the experience of Jesus can itself only be understood in relation to the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert. Exodus recounts the story of how, by a gratuitous act of love on God’s part, in fidelity to a promise he made long ago – a promise which would seen to be all empty by reason of the years and the suffering which have intervened – God allows Israel to escape from the slavery of Egypt to worship him in the wilderness. There the Lord offers them a covenant on Sinai. He feeds them miraculously and even overlooks their worshipping a golden calf to bring them at last to the Promised Land.
NOT SEEKING TO ISOLATE OURSELVES FROM GOD BY MATERIAL SECURITY
Now we have the key to understanding the temptations of Jesus: the temptation to worship the Devil, the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptations to power. These would all be temptations like those of his ancestors, to somehow want to be self-reliant, whereas the wilderness experience is about discovering the only true freedom: a total reliance on God expressed in worship of him, fidelity to his law and an essential love of poverty, of a depending on him for my how am I to live, not seeking once to isolate myself from him by material security.
THE ONLY TRUE FREEDOM: TOTAL RELIANCE ON GOD
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all to teach me reliance on God and solidarity with those who suffer. They are to make space in me for knowledge of my poverty and tame my ego a bit. Even a feeble Lent, a Lent of broken resolutions, might by God’s grace bring about a change in me if I am forced to admit how weak is my will, how shallow my religiosity, and how deep and real my need for God’s mercy. Remember that wonderful Chesterton paradox used to describe a saint: ‘A saint can be recognised by the fact that he knows himself to be a sinner.’
‘LOOK NOT ON OUR SINS, BUT ON THE FAITH OF YOUR CHURCH’
Just as Jesus needed to immerse himself the story of Israel, the story of God’s miraculous saving in history, so Lent is a time of identifying myself more fully with the Church, to experience in this time the miraculous effects the saving God wishes to bring about in my own history, particularly through the miraculous signs and wonders of the sacraments. This is not merely a personal journey, but also a collective one for the whole Church, a time to remember the prayer which precedes Communion which asks God to look ‘not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church’. It is also a time to remember that however weak or sinful I may feel I am supported by the merits and intercession of the whole Church. Together as part of the Chosen People we will rejoice in the arrival at the Promised Land of Easter.
LOOK TO THE HORIZON AND JUST KEEP GOING
We will welcome the newly baptised at Easter and share in the joy of the salvation they have been promised. Exodus also reminds us that salvation has a history: it does not happen all at once. We are on a journey. The direction of travel is all-important, and the wonderful promise of the destination allows one to lift the eyes to the horizon and slog on, even when the going is touch and we lament what must be left behind.”
– This is an excerpt of “Diary of a City Priest”, by Pastor Iuventus, (available from Amazon) which was published in “The Catholic Herald” issue March 14 2014. For subscriptions please visit http://www.catholicherald.co.uk (external link).