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40 days in the desert

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 2:36 p.m. CST

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” (Matthew 4;1-2) 

For most of us the desert probably evokes an image of an arid, stark and hot expanse of land — quite different from the surroundings we are used to. 

For the people of biblical times, it was both a real and symbolic  place of refuge from society, a place for contemplation and prayer. The distractions of everyday life are left behind. One is alone to open oneself to the call of God. 

That process, however, often includes contending with the darkest powers of temptation.

The account of Jesus going out into the desert comes in the Scriptures after his baptism by John in the Jordan River. He has left his home and now prepares to embark on a new chapter in his life. His time in the desert is a time of preparation. When the devil tempts him with lures of earthly comfort, power and glory, Jesus shows this to be a time of decision as well. 

As will happen at several other junctures during his public life, his clear decision is faithfulness to the mission for which he was sent by the Father.

The 40 days of Lent are quite obviously meant to mirror Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Few of us have the ability or opportunity (even if we have the desire) to step out of our regular lives and head off to some remote and isolated locale to commune with the Creator for a month or more. 

Nonetheless, we also need to find ways to step out of the regular routine, clear our heads and hearts and give God sufficient time to get through to us. 

We need to shake free of the superficial and the trivial. We need to contend with our own demons, whether internal or external. 

We need to be honest with ourselves and with God about our goals, our motivation, our willingness or unwillingness to take seriously his call to us. These things entail more than the expenditure of an occasional hour in church. They also entail our putting our complete trust in the Father — as did Jesus.  

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