INTO THE DESERT AND READY FOR THE BATTLE
HANDMAID Lenten '17 Reflection Series
BY CHARLENE OGU
Lent is upon us! We’re already a couple days in, how are you feeling so far? If I’m being completely honest, I felt really unprepared, still deliberating what I was going to give up on Thursday and already feeling like my lousy start was going to determine the quality of my Lenten experience by Friday. But God is good, and if this Sunday’s Gospel has taught me anything it’s that, this is indeed a spiritual battle and it won’t necessarily be easy. So let’s get started on our first Lenten reflection! If you haven’t yet read the Gospel here it is.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the desert to be put to the test by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was hungry, and the tester came and said to him, 'If you are Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.' But he replied, 'Scripture says: Human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' The devil then took him to the holy city and set him on the parapet of the Temple. 'If you are Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down; for scripture says: He has given his angels orders about you, and they will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone.' Jesus said to him, 'Scripture also says: Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. And he said to him, 'I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage. Then Jesus replied, 'Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve. Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels appeared and looked after him. Matthew 4:1-11
‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ this is what Jesus heard as a loud voice from heaven, during his baptism. He heard his Father affirming his identity. Immediately after the Spirit leads him into the desert. And here we see in Sunday’s Gospel Jesus being filled with the Spirit and being tempted in the wilderness. This time of lent is a period in the desert, a time of more prayer and less distractions to discern and refine so that when it is over we leave in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The devil questions Jesus’ identity, the most essential part of his being ‘If you are the Son God...’ as though trying to arouse doubt in Jesus or prompting him to prove himself. Jesus never corrects the devil, by telling him he IS the Son of God; his responses always focuses on who God is. The assuredness of who he is rests in the reality of who God has revealed himself to be through scripture.
The desert is a place of bareness, quite the opposite from the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve dwelled in the beginning. It comes with a sense of abandonment and wandering. And indeed it is not a permanent state. It’s a season of complete surrender and dependency and with this comes choices we are given to fully embrace that. When the devil tempted Eve he gave her a choice, and she went from what she knew to be true in the word of God
‘The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ Genesis 3:3 NIV
to desiring what she knew would kill her. He made her question her identity. And we see the devil trying this with Jesus tempting him with the kingdoms and splendour of the world trying to deprive him of his true identity as the Kingdom of heaven and hence attempting to ultimately kill him.
‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ Mark 8:36 NIV
This is a battle, and it may not seem like it, I’m sure it didn’t when Adam and Eve decided to eat the apple but it is.
'Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17 NIV
So as Lent begins, let us enter into the desert. With our own individual fasts we acknowledge where we are weak in our faith, and we use this to direct what our fast will be. As we make ourselves more vulnerable to God; we open up our hearts, we de-clutter our lives and through this we free up some more space for Him to enter in. And as we do this, we must also do our revision; as we make ourselves vulnerable to Christ we also must be vigilant and know that this will also open up opportunities for us also to be tested by Satan! But fear not; for we enter armed with the knowledge and assurance of who we are: we are daughters of God standing in union with Christ. And we enter the desert armed with the map of how to get through, the same way Jesus did; by knowing and reminding ourselves of who God is and of his Power; by feeding on His Word as a way to distinguish the voice of God and respond to temptation. Be assured that the Holy Spirit who leads us into the desert will indeed remain with us in times of need.
Prayer for the week : Lord Jesus thank you for your steadfast example of faith, and for leading the way through the desert. I pray that you will guide my steps as this Lenten season begins, and arm me with all I need to open my heart to you and to our Heavenly Father, and to defend myself against the tests of the tempter.