Rose Marie Stallbaumer, OSB | February 25, 2023
Readings: 1 Cor 1:18-25; Matthew 4:1-11
There are very few Gospel stories that we hear every year. This Gospel story is one exception. Though from a different Gospel writer each year, we listen to the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus every First Sunday of Lent.
Rather than dwelling on the temptations Jesus faced, I’d like to focus on Jesus’ 40 days in the desert this evening.
Some years ago, I made a 30 day retreat in Cottonwood, Idaho. Not a desert, but an away place that offered the opportunity for solitude and quiet reflection. There was a peace and clarity that came in the quiet spaces of the Camas Prairie and the forest of Idaho. I felt God’s presence with me and heard God’s voice in the beauty around me as I walked the forested hillsides each day.
Jesus went into the desert immediately after he was baptized by John, having felt the Spirit of God descend upon him and having heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” No doubt, the experience of His baptism and the words of His Father were a powerful source of strength and nourishment for Jesus. Yet, Jesus doesn’t go out and begin his public ministry; instead, he is goes into the desert.
Why the desert at this point and time? Benedictine Demetrius Dumm says the Hebrew word for desert might better be defined as wilderness, a place that is unexplored, or a place of mystery. I imagine that, for Jesus, the desert was indeed a place of mystery. Jesus went into the desert seeking some time for prayer and solitude, to prepare himself for what he knew was ahead of him. His time in the desert wilderness must have granted Jesus the strength and clarity he needed to overcome the temptations, and to confront the many challenges he would face upon his return.
These forty days must have given Jesus the confidence and grace he needed to begin his public ministry, for it is, immediately upon coming out of the wilderness, that he returns to Galilee, enters the synagogue and reads from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he sent me to bring Good news to the poor..”
One of my favorite writers, Jan Richardson, talks about the clarity that comes from a wilderness space. Describing the wilderness as a space where we can shed the daily routine and comfortableness of our everyday lives, she suggests, “Lent offers us this kind of landscape, calling to us to leave behind some piece of what we have known in order to make a space to receive what comes to us in the wilderness.”
I suspect the wilderness brought this clarity to Jesus. Going to the wilderness was to become a source of strength for him on the journey ahead of him. We know that, throughout his life, Jesus sought places away from the crowds for rest and quiet, and we see him returning to the people, time after time, renewed and ready to respond to their needs.
As we enter into these 40 days of Lent, we may not be able to go out to the wilderness of a desert, but we can find our own wilderness place, where we can feel the presence of God and allow the Spirit to speak to us. As we continue to work together setting our direction for the coming six years and preparing for the election of a prioress, this Lenten wilderness seems a perfect time and space to seek clarity on the direction we are being called, and to ask ourselves what piece of what we have known should we leave behind in order to receive the new.
May we enter into the wilderness that lies at the heart of our own life, where our questions and our wrestling are met with moments of clarity, and may we emerge with some measure of what Jesus found in his forty-day desert.