Into the Desert

Into the Desert

The obvious question must be: “Why would Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, be led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil in the desert for forty days?”

The answer must be that Jesus is our Leader on the way to endless life in the Father’s Promised Land of heaven. As our Leader, he has to succeed where Israel of old failed miserably as it was on its journey for 40 years through the desert toward the Promised Land of Israel.

What is hard for us to comprehend is why the Holy Spirit leads Jesus to be tempted by Satan in the desert.

It has to be the desert because in the desert those, who intend to make it to their destination, are forced to come face to face with their true inner self once it is stripped of all pretentions and phony postures. This painful probing of the inner self is the gate to an encounter with the living God who cannot deceive or be deceived.

It has to be in the desert because, once we are victorious as we pass the tests put by Satan, we come face-to-face with our God and we can make our fundamental choices for him.

These “fundamental choices” refer to those choices that shape our life on the way to the Promised Land of heaven.

But, if we were to make our fundamental choices for God and for his Gospel, untested by Satan, while allured and distracted by attitudes and actions that displease God, we would continue to lead a life without solid convictions and, thus, we would risk wandering, aimlessly with no clear destination in mind.

As in the case of Jesus, our Leader, the tests which can make us either strong enough to choose God and his Gospel or surrender to insignificance and futility, can all be reduced to shortcuts of easy solutions.

The easy solutions suggested by Satan were cleverly chosen to trip Jesus into displeasing God the Father.

A few verses before recording the three temptations of Jesus, Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit had descended on him in bodily form like a dove (cf. Luke 3:22) and that the voice of God the Father was heard stating: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.

Reading the Gospel of Luke, it becomes quickly clear that our Leader’s first destination was Jerusalem, because such an ominous destination was what was pleasing to the Father.

Jerusalem was the city that killed the prophets (cf. Luke 13:34), and it will have killed also our Leader, THE Prophet.

In Jerusalem there were no easy solutions and no shortcuts to be found by Jesus. As it pleased God, the way to Jerusalem was already marked by hardships, confrontations, and rejections.  And, in it, Jesus knew that humiliations, excruciating tortures and a shameful cross awaited him. But, acceptance of all that was pleasing to the Father…

Now, it becomes more evident why Satan’s proposals to Jesus, weakened by a long fasting in the desert, were introduced by an insistent verification: “If you are the Son of God….”

The three easy solutions, the three shortcuts proposed by Satan are, first the shortcut of instant popularity: “command this stone to become bread.” 

Personally, it reminds me also of all the empty promises made by politicians. They never tell us the cost, the hidden pain, of what they propose and/or promise. The devil is fully aware that this is an ageless temptation, worth trying over and over again.  Alas, many of us keep falling for it …

I also imagine that every time Jesus fed his people in groups of 4,000 or even 5,000 men, without counting women and children, he was aware of the risk of instant popularity.

Thus, John records his reaction pleasing to the Father. “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.” John 6:14

Second, the shortcut to power and glory: “I shall give you all this power and glory….if you worship me.” It has been so tempting from the very beginning of human history to get an easy share in God’s power and glory (cf. Genesis 3:5); yet the only way to share in God’s power and glory is through the humiliation and death on a cross.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” Revelation 5:12

Third, the shortcut of dazzling sensationalism: “throw yourself down from here (the parapet of the Temple).”  

Throughout his public ministry, Jesus shied away from even any resemblance of sensationalism, because this third shortcut is the one that destroys genuine faith and trust in God and replaces it with arrogance and self-sufficiency.

Today’s narrative of the temptations of Jesus contains an ominous note:  When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. Luke 4:13

Satan had, unsuccessfully, tempted Jesus when he was weakened by prolonged fasting in the desert. But he tried again, through his minions, when Jesus was even weaker and totally exhausted on the cross: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” Matthew 27:40 

However, Jesus proved that he is truly the Son of God, in whom the Father is well pleased, precisely through the miracle of staying on the cross, out of obedience, when he could have, easily, come down and dazzled all onlooker!

Similarly, the only way we can prove that we are truly God’s sons and daughters, in whom he is well pleased, is by constant reliance on his Word, by hard work, by being responsible stewards of his gifts, by rejecting superficiality, by shying away from the spotlights, by enduring the inevitable trials of life with a trusting heart and by facing our share of sufferings inspired and sustained by our crucified Lord.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin