Musing on Jesus in the Desert
“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.” – Luke 4: 1-2
I’ve only been in the desert once, that I can remember. It was when I went to Las Vegas a few years ago. (I went with my family to see a concert.) I remember reading on the Internet beforehand that we should take bottles of water with us whenever we went out on the strip. The website said that because you’re in the desert, which is a dry heat, your sweat evaporates off your body more quickly. Before you know it, you’re exhausted and dehydrated, even after just an hour walking around outside.
If you have never been in the desert, it is a perpetual dry sauna. It seems like there is no moisture in the air; and there’s hardly any wind. (At least, where I was; I realize there are other deserts that are plenty windy.) It seems that you are gradually baking or melting with each passing step. Water and air conditioning are long lost friends, and you wonder why you ever left their company in the first place.
That’s why when I was reading last week’s Gospel in preparation for the First Sunday of Lent, after the first lines where it said Jesus was hungry, I thought, why wasn’t he thirsty? Perhaps he took water with him, but that would have to be large amount to last 40 days in the desert.
Jesus, being fully human, wouldn’t he be hot? Exhausted? Dehydrated? Sun-burnt? If I had to survive 40 days in the desert, and I was fasting the whole time, I don’t think I could concentrate on anything else except my own physical experiences – thirst, hunger, pain, etc.
Yet, from what we know through the Gospel, Jesus manages to overcome these human sufferings. Yes, he probably had those experiences (I would assume) of thirst, hunger, discomfort, pain, exhaustion, and so on.
But, then I realized, Jesus is able to endure those sufferings because he has the greatest comfort – the greatest companionship – His Father and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus spent his 40 days in the desert talking to and spending time with His Father. He is teaching us that while human experiences are important, communion with the Heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the most important experience we can have.
Yes, it is probably painful to endure 40 days in the desert with little to no food. I’m sure Jesus was praying in some tough conditions (physically, mentally, etc.) But, people endure other painful experiences everyday with their loved ones beside them. Why can’t Jesus do the same? What is pain and suffering if you are in the company of the One You Love Most?
As many theologians have pointed out, the devil’s three temptations of bread, kingdoms, and testing God correspond to the “Three Enemies of the Rational Soul” : the flesh (bread), the world (riches, power, etc.), and the devil (testing God).
Yet, I would point out the first verse of Luke 4 again: Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.
I would contend that Jesus overcame the Three Enemies two-fold: firstly, through the devil’s temptations; but secondly, through his retreat into prayer with His Father.
The Spirit led Him away from the world, into the desert for 40 days to fast, which was a voluntary, physical suffering, to be tempted by the devil. Through Jesus’ time prayer and communion with His Father, he overcame the Three Enemies by voluntarily:
- removing Himself from the world and its temptations
- denying Himself the comforts of food, water, shelter, etc., and
- subjecting Himself to continued temptations by the devil.
Through his seclusion, suffering, and temptations, Jesus teaches us that while our mission on the Earth is important – as Jesus did return to His Ministry after His days of prayer and fasting in the desert – the most important thing is our relationship with God.
Because, as the Gospels say: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. We are called to be in the world, but not of it; because the Three Enemies are not eternal. The world will end; we will be resurrected without the same desires of the flesh; the Devil – through his “brainchildren” (so to speak) sin and death – has been conquered and will continue to be conquered. Yet, God is eternal. Thus, our time and our love should be given to the One Who Endures, and not to the things that will fade away.
That is the point of Lent: to do as Jesus did. To commune with God in a special way as we sacrifice our comforts, allowing ourselves to be tempted, and – through God’s grace, we pray – conquer those temptations.
So, let us continue this time – this journey – in the desert communing Our Lord.