Gospel Reflection for March 6, 2022, First Sunday of Lent

Jesus, having stepped out of the waters of his Baptism, traveled into the wilderness to spend time alone to reflect on and prepare for the mission that he was about to undertake. We should expect that the last words he heard – “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” – resonated deep within him during his forty days of solitude.

At some point close to Jesus being baptized, John the Baptizer was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, the ruler of the Galilee. Jesus was well-aware of this as he went into the desert to prepare for his own ministry. Jesus could easily see what lie before him.

Jesus spends 40 days in that wilderness. This is the same period of time that Moses spent atop Mount Sinai as he prepared to receive the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. As with Moses, Jesus spends this time in prayer and fasting. Jesus also knows his uniqueness – he is the Son of God – and the full implications of that singularity within the course of salvation history. Now, after 40 days Jesus is prepared to leave the wilderness and announce the Kingdom of God.

As we see in the Garden of Eden, and really at all moments when God is affecting salvation for his people, Satan has other plans. Satan attempts interruption leading to destruction.

With the man and woman in the garden, Satan was successful. They were lured into complacency and then found the forbidden fruit too compelling to resist. The fact that they even though they were in an expansive garden they were foraging close to the tree of forbidden fruit is a clue to us that they were themselves ripe for temptation.  Even though they experienced an intimacy with God well beyond our imagining, they lusted for more than just intimacy. The serpent seized on their weakness and brought them to ruin.

Jesus, however, proves a much more formidable opponent for Satan. Yes, he has been alone and without food in the desert for 40 days, making him hungry and vulnerable for food. Satan knows who stands before him, yet he dares to even challenge the very Son of God to forsake all he has in order to satisfy his human hunger. Once he fails to have Jesus turn simple stones into bread, he appeals to Jesus, the man before him. He places before Jesus a path different than the way of the Cross, instead offering him the opportunity to gain fame and fortune in the material world. Satan hoped, to the extent that Satan can hope, that the desire of the man could overcome the will of God. Satan tries his best – he offers Jesus the easy way out. Jesus could have traded death on the cross for a triumphal reign as king of the world. Try as he might, Satan could not offer Jesus the one great promise that his own death on the cross will insure for the world – eternal life. Had Jesus accepted the lure of the world, he would still have faced death, yet absent any hope.

During this Season of Lent, we are given the opportunity once again to enter the wilderness of our lives, to listen to the Word of God as it comes to us, and to stare down those temptations so that we might instead fulfill our destiny and come to eternal life.

If we enter Lent with all seriousness, we are forced to confront the very deepest desires of our own lives and to learn to accept our own limitations and mortality. While we are familiar with “giving up” for Lent, we often choose to sacrifice that which is easy, and also knowing that once the period of sacrifice is over we can again in indulge in that which we sacrificed.

Yet, we seldom understand Lent as a time to experience an authentic conversion. We are challenged on Ash Wednesday to “turn away from sin and follow the Gospel.” This is a serious demand, one that we need to live out in our lives. The temporary sacrificing from the temporary pleasure of say, eating chocolate is noble. However, this is the time to look carefully at our sins of commission and omission and to put them behind us, not just for 40 days, but for the rest of our lives. Our propensity to sin is strong, but so is our ability to put sin aside and to overcome it. We see within the 12-step programs the appeal to “a higher power” and the communal commitment to break addictions. It’s not easy and for many remains a life-long struggle. Through the Sacrament of Confession, the reception of the sacraments and a life of prayer, we can break the sins that separate us from God and stand as stumbling blocks for others, threatening our very eternal life.

Lent is the time for us to commit ourselves to a genuine conversion. This Lent, we walk with Jesus, setting aside the temptations that come our way, and commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God.

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