The first four chapters of Luke’s gospel are fueled by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. First, the Spirit quietly descended upon Elizabeth and Zachariah. This elderly couple conceived a miracle child, John, the baptist. Six months later, the young virgin, Mary, was overshadowed by the Spirit. She bore a son, Jesus, “who will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Thirty years later “after all the people had been baptized and Jesus who had also been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.” Immediately, “filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert.” It is at this point in Luke’s narrative that we begin our reflection today.
Jesus was filled with the Spirit when he went into the desert. He was alone and isolated. In that still point, Jesus contemplated his identity and the meaning and purpose of his life and ministry. The last day of his isolation, after forty days of total fasting, the enemy launched three temptations at him.
“You think you’re the Son of God? Prove it. Change these stones into loaves of bread!” Jesus recalled his Father’s words to the Israelites when they were in the desert. “I let you be afflicted with hunger and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) Jesus will soon feed the crowds with God’s word. He’ll even promise to feed them with his own body and blood. “Worship me, the god of mammon! I’ll fulfill every desire you’ll ever have for power, wealth and glory.”
Again, Jesus speaks his Father’s teaching to the Israelites. “The Lord your God shall you fear, him alone you serve, and by his name shall you swear. You shall not The Pastor’s Reflections 2 follow other gods.” (Deuteronomy 6:13-14) At the Last Supper, Jesus will instruct his disciples. “Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? I am among you as the one who serves. It is you who have stood by me in my trials, and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:26-30)
“Your Father!? Do you really think your Father will protect you, no matter what? Do you trust him enough to throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple? He said he’d never let your foot dash against a stone.”
One last time, Jesus speaks his Father’s words to the Israelites. “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test as you did at Massa. But keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and the ordinances and statutes he has enjoined on you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord that you may, according to his word, prosper, and may enter in and possess the land which the Lord promised on oath to your fathers, thrusting all your enemies out of your way.” (Deuteronomy 6:16-19)
Jesus called for the deepest trust. He told his disciples to place all their trust in the Father. “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Luke 12:32-34)
“When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit will immediately begin his mission of preaching, healing and proclaiming the kingdom of God. In three years the devil will return with a vengeance. So much so that Jesus will sweat blood. But he will not succumb. Will he suffer? Yes, he will. But he will conquer. He will triumph!
As we’re led by the same Spirit that led Jesus into the desert, we begin our own forty-day sojourn in the desert. Let’s pray that the Spirit strengthens each and every one of us. Lent is the time we assess ourselves. It’s the time we’re invited by the Spirit to clarify our identity, and the meaning of our lives, and our dedication as disciples of Jesus.
Lent isn’t ordinary time. It’s an extraordinary time of self-scrutiny. It’s the time to discover how hungry we are for God. It’s the time we’re challenged to abandon our idols. It’s the time we put our lives in the Father’s hands. It’s the time we prepare for the next temptation.