The desert can seem to be a scary place. After all, there are snakes (not my favorite animal), scorpions, plants with spines that hurt, and it is extremely hot during the day and extremely cold at night. Given how retreats happen today in nice comfortable places, a room with heat or AC, meals, I can not think that Jesus could have a more comfortable place to be with the Father. However, the desert image returns us to the wanderings of the People of Israel for 40 years in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. They had to learn to depend on God for everything: water, food, direction. They had to learn to worship God alone and not golden calves. They had to learn that power comes from service and faithfulness to the covenant.
Jesus’s temptations are the challenges of the 40 days of the Lenten season. In his homily on Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father offers a plan for our Lenten observance. The first step is to pause. Jesus’s going into the desert after His Baptism was a pause before He began his mission. He challenges us this Lent to take a pause and honestly look at our lives as His followers.
Remember the second reading from St Paul on Ash Wednesday:
Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation
Our Lenten pause is a unique opportunity. Yes, God willing, we will be here next Lent, but the invitation is today…..Jesus stands in front us today and asks us a very simple favor:
Take a pause from the ordinary stuff of life and listen to me. Spend some time with me. Let me remind you about your call to continue the work I give you
There is no reason to be afraid of meeting Jesus in the Lenten desert. He wants us to take a pause to let him into our life anew or maybe for the very first time. Yes, Lent is hard work. In the pause of Lent, our extra effort at prayer asks us to spend more time with Jesus. In the pause of Lent, our effort to walk away from idols means we need to ask ourselves some very hard questions about what to get rid of. Finally, in the pause of Lent, only in Jesus we will find the living Bread of eternal life to sustain us in desert times of Lent and life.
And remember, do it all with joy! The joy of being a disciple of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.