In his Gospel reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, Father Garry Koch speaks about Jesus retreating into the desert where he encountered temptations. Photo from unsplash.com
In his Gospel reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, Father Garry Koch speaks about Jesus retreating into the desert where he encountered temptations. Photo from unsplash.com
Gospel reflection for Feb. 21, 2021, First Sunday of Lent

As we enter the Lenten journey, our Gospel passage takes us back to that moment between the Baptism of Jesus and the onset of his public ministry. After his Baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he is tempted. While in our minds we fill in the details of this temptation from the accounts of both Matthew and Luke, Mark does not provide us with that narrative. As with most parts of the Gospel, he is more terse pointing out instead: “He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

Jesus has just given up his ordinary life and his work, walked away from it all, and is embarking on a new journey. While this is the mission for which he has been sent, there remains nonetheless a necessary time of preparation and struggle that goes along with the mission. Here, Jesus is tempted and in the ways that most of us are. The struggle between self-aggrandizement and humble service; the lure of worldly power over the Kingdom of God; the very trial between life and death, all had to sweep through his mind and heart. Add to that the ordinary experiences in the desert: fear, hunger, thirst, extremes in weather, loneliness, and this period in the life of Jesus was fraught with danger. Assisted by the angels, and with the deepening awareness of what was just proclaimed at his Baptism: “You are My beloved Son,” Jesus faces down the oppression that afflicts him.

Yet, we see him struggle with his mission at various times in his public ministry. Jesus boldly and harshly confronts Peter when Peter suggests that the messiah would not go to Jerusalem to die. Certainly, there is no moment when that struggle was more acute than at his agony on the night before the Crucifixion. Yet steadily throughout the Gospels we also see that Jesus is nourished by his relationship with the Father, one that he frequently takes to prayer.

We all struggle with the meaning of our own lives, our sense of purpose and belonging. This becomes more apparent at various critical points in life. We think of high school and college students struggling to understand their futures, or the person whose career prospects have taken a downturn, and those who struggle with the ordinary confusion and pain that comes with making life choices. When through the eyes of faith we try to understand not just our will, or our family’s will for our lives, but God’s will for us, we are then able to try to discover the deeper purpose of life and our role within the human family.

Sadly, many have even lost sight of the need to discern God’s will for their lives. For them these times can be daunting indeed. Their temptations in the world can lead them to places that cause more disruption and pain than peace and wholeness. When all we seek is our own will, we can quickly, and often painfully, discover that our sense of our need and our will changes and we can find no stability in ourselves or our lives.

With all that is going on around us through the pandemic and the dissention within our society and even within our own Church, the temptation to despair, to hopelessness, to flee, and to lose sight of who we are and what is most important, is very real. We have, all of us, been sent into a wilderness for almost a year now, and the temptations there have been great and overwhelming for so many.

Jesus overcame the temptations in the desert and shows us the way to do so ourselves. While the Gospel notes that “angels ministered to” Jesus there are not many of us who thinks that we have angels ministering to us. But, indeed, the Lord does provide us with angels in our lives. Besides the spiritual Guardian Angel who accompanies us, there are the many people that the Lord sends to us in our lives who offer that helping hand, word of encouragement, healing touch, or simple smile that means so much. Most importantly there are those who challenge, encourage, and love us, offering us a deeper insight – almost always without knowing it – into what the Lord wants us to know at a given moment.

We pray, during this Lenten journey, that assisted by the power of our faith and trust in God’s merciful love, that we can be restored and renewed, coming out of this time of struggle and temptation as stronger disciples, and the person God has called us to be.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.