We are now in the season of Lent. Our gospel for this Sunday describes Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit, after his baptism, into the desert for a face-to-face confrontation with the devil. His sojourn in the desert lasts 40 days, and so Jesus provides a model for our own Lenten season of 40 days, when we too should expect to be tested by the devil. Fr Denny Dempsey , in his commentary on this passage, has some great insights into how we can approach this time of testing and prove successful over all Satan’s schemes:
“Let’s consider what led to (Jesus’) success:
- Jesus went with a healthy respect for his opponent. In Luke 12:4-5 Jesus tells us not to fear those who can kill only the physical body, but the one who can cast into Gehenna (i.e. Hell): “I tell you, be afraid of that one!” This is not, of course, the fear that immobilizes a person but that which keeps one alert and prepared…a healthy respect for the power of the opposition.
- Jesus did not go into the desert on his own. He did not take on the devil to show off. He was led into the desert. We do not serve God’s purpose by seeking confrontations with evil or putting ourselves into situations of temptation. Those are the tests in which we so often overestimate our own powers of resistance and fail. Jesus went as the Spirit directed. The Spirit did not just drop him off but accompanied Jesus every step of the way.
- Jesus had studied the word of God since early childhood. He was familiar with that word and knew how to interpret and apply that word, which is precisely what he did in each of the three temptations.
- Jesus fasted. Going without something which the body craves is more than an act of sacrifice. Fasting asserts spiritual dominance over physical hungers and desires, enabling a person to say “No” to selfishness and self-indulgence. As an indication of a priority of values, fasting also clears the mind and heart to recognize what is truly most important when different aspects of our lives seem to be in conflict and strengthens us to choose what is best.
- Jesus prayed for strength and discernment. Knowledge, as Jesus applied his years of scripture study, is valuable. Applying knowledge in each moment requires discernment. We must be people of prayer, always seeking to discern God’s will and grace to respond as God would have us do in each moment of life.