Those familiar with the rhythms of Lent will recognize that the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always about the Temptations of Jesus in the desert. This year we are treated to the excerpt from Luke’s Gospel. We hear that the journey that Jesus takes into the desert is one led by God. It is no mistake that the proper place for Jesus to be after His baptism is in the desert, where He will experience choices about what His ministry will look like. The temptations we hear in the Gospel each year as we begin Lent help us to situate ourselves in a desert so that God leads us to confront the choices between good and evil.
So many of us have familiar patterns that we unconsciously move into when we hear that we are beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday. We know that we are called by the Church to fast and abstain, that we are called to be people of prayer during this special season and that we are called to practice almsgiving in a way that we might not practice it at other times of the year. To let these choices be led by God and not by our own will, we must let God lead us into the desert He wants us to be in.
You may already be in the desert that God wants you to be in. You may be in a desolate place. You may already be experiencing a separateness from other people or other distractions. You may be in an arid place, where nothing seems to grow except prickly things like cacti. As we prepare to begin this special season, let’s ask God to lead us into the desert that He wants us to be in. It will take some humility and some consciousness to be able to listen to the movement of His spirit in our life and to let God lead us. We may need to pray a little bit about what we are to give up. Maybe God doesn’t want us to do without beer or chocolate. Maybe God wants us to be in a desert that might look like less shopping or less screen time or less clutter in our lives. What is the desert that God is leading you into? Are you willing to go there and face the choices between good and evil that the desert place sets before you?
The reading from the book of Deuteronomy might help us understand how to trust God to lead us where He wants us to go. The Israelite people are reminded that every good gift is from God. God has provided for them a way out of slavery, a passage through the wilderness and the land flowing with milk and honey. All those good gifts are signs of God’s faithfulness and love to His people. That same revelation of God’s goodness is present in our day and time. It is a reminder that every good gift we have is from God, whether that be some freedom that we’ve experienced from an enslavement in our lives, some passage that God has given us through a very isolated and lonely place or the overflowing abundance that marks our lives as all of our needs are addressed. If that is true, what causes our hesitancy to trust God as He leads us into a desert during Lent? Why is it that we are so hesitant to be stripped bare and experience our own vulnerability in the face of God? With all the faithfulness that God has shown to us, what keeps us from being more willing to follow His lead during this season?
If you’re looking for some encouragement that might give you the energy to trust more deeply and rely on God’s promises more fully, read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul reminds the people of Rome — and us — that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Is that you? Are you among those who are saved? If you are, what has been your response to such a great act of love? Have you been freer to share the love of God with others even at some cost to yourself? Have you believed in that promise in such a way that you were using more and more of your life to share your witness with those who haven’t yet heard the Good News?
I look forward to walking this journey of Lent with you, and I pray that each of us might allow God to lead us where He wants us to go to encounter the deep difference between good and evil.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.