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Retreat-ing to the Desert

February 18, 2013

First Sunday of Lent Reflection by Shannon Green, University Ministry
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

As a kid I took Lent pretty seriously. I gave up the usual items like candy and fighting with my sisters, and I felt I was doing what my faith required.  When I would hear this gospel at the start of Lent each year, I understood the story as Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days. So I prepared for Lent as a period of being tempted, and I knew the devil would be after me to go back on my fasting, to either forget – or worse – purposely break the rules. 40 days was a long time to keep up being good with the devil tempting me at every turn. I was set up for failure every time. I inevitably gave in, and was ashamed that the devil had won.

Thankfully I now see in this gospel that this is not a time of temptation but a time of retreat.  Jesus had just been publicly baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. He was claimed and named as beloved Son of God. Jesus’ response to his baptism is to go where the Spirit leads: into the wilderness for retreat.  In this vast space there was plenty of room to pray and fast for 40 days. I imagine this time allowed Jesus to reflect deeply on what just happened to him in his baptism, to root himself steadfastly in his identity as the Son of God, and to strengthen his communion with his Father.

A tapestry of the Baptism of the Lord, hung at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California.

A tapestry of the Baptism of the Lord, hung at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California.

The temptations Jesus faced are not the temptations I thought were important as child, but they are very familiar to me today: using the power of my position for short-term gain, satisfying a physical or emotional hunger;  worshiping the false gods of material possessions and prestige; making demands of God that are not mine to make. These temptations lead only to dissatisfaction and separation, not communion.

The devil resorts to every deception, even using the Scriptures of Jesus’ own tradition to disrupt his relationship with God. But after 40 days of fasting and prayer, after being claimed through his baptism as the beloved Son of God, Jesus knows who he is and Whose he is. Jesus’ life was one of forgoing material and political and personal power, and embracing the creative power of God freely.Mary Jo Leddy writes in Radical Gratitude, “Because [Jesus] knew he was from God, he also lived in the realization that he was with God, that his identity was constituted through this most fundamental relationship. This was the source of his power. . . It was not a controlling power, not a power achieved by wealth, might or position. It was the power of love unleashed through active gratitude.”

We go into the desert these forty days to remember who we are and Whose we are, that by our baptism we have been declared beloved daughters and sons of God. By taking this time to fast and pray, we can deepen our relationship with the true Source of creative power in our lives.  We need this time, and I believe if we stop for a moment to reflect we will find that we crave this time with our God.

The devil will return to us in the very ordinary temptations of life, using all at his disposal to sever our ties with God. But just as with Jesus, the Spirit leads us and is with us always. If we remember where we came from and to whom we belong, and make room for love instead of the things that do not last, the devil will not succeed.


Looking for an opportunity to pray these 40 days? Sign up for the Busy Student Retreat, February 25 – 28.

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