Sharing Jesus’ Wilderness Experience this Lent
Readings: (1st: Gen 7, 7-9. 3, 1-7; Ps 50, 3.6-17; 2nd: Rom 4, 12-19; Gos: Matt 4, 1-11)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent Year A, and in it we are specially invited by the Church to celebrate Jesus Christ the second Adam, who by the power of the Holy Spirit overcame temptation and sin, and who by his obedience and faithfulness to the Father’s will gained back the world to the Father. This season of Lent as the Church in her wisdom has fashioned it, is a period when we join Jesus in his “Wilderness Experience” (praying and fasting) in order to prepare ourselves for the rest of the year and for the journey of faith ahead. Therefore, this season calls for great discipline, courage, fortitude, vigilance, surveillance, and above all a strong faith and hope in God. It is also, a period when we must strike a strong pact with the Holy Spirit our Advocate. We must also key in to the abundant grace that God has made available to us through his son Jesus Christ, the second Adam. If we tarry with Jesus in the wilderness this season fasting and praying, we shall find the strength and boldness with which to say to Satan and his cohorts: “Be off!” Indeed, he will definitely go away from us while the Hosts of Heaven will be at our beck and call to minister to us.
Through our first reading today, we kick off our journey into Lent by recalling the beginning of our salvific history which begins first with the creation of humankind represented by Adam and Eve, humanity’s temptation, disobedience and subsequent yielding to sin. It is through the disobedience of our progenitors that we all became venerable to temptation and (Original) Sin which consequently led to what St. Augustine of Hippo refers to as “massa damnata”(damned masses). From this reading therefore, it is evident that while temptation in itself is not sin, sin in its entire ramification is a gross act of disobedience against our Creator. Again, it is a violation of the natural order of things as Adam and Eve did by eating of the forbidden fruit. It suffices to note the important stages that Eve went through before she finally succumbed to Satan. After Satan’s appeal to Eve we are told that: “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and that it was desirable for knowledge that it could give. She took some of the fruit and ate it.” This is the nature of the struggle we go through every day. This is the problem of sense perception which of course in the study of epistemology does not in any way lead to true knowledge. It is the problem of the Id and Ego that we try to satisfy every day. Many of us are so engrossed in our quest for knowledge to the extent that we are ready to violate nature in total disobedience to God. Many Christians today in search of knowledge and power have fallen prey to the devils gimmicks and lies. While looking for truth where it cannot be found, many of us have “perished because of lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4, 6) of the Truth which is Jesus Christ (Jh 14, 6), who God himself has revealed to us. In order not to fall like Adam and Eve to the falsehood of Satan, we must be mindful of the fact that “all that glitters are not gold.” We must discern that voice speaking to us now and today about what we must do, the place we must visit for solutions to our problems, the things we must do to acquire more power or fame in life.
In the second reading, Paul traces the origin of sin to “One Man – Adam”. Only God knows why it has to be Adam and not Eve who started it all. Perhaps, Paul took it for granted that Adam being God’s first human creature, the pioneer landlord of the Garden of Eden, “the stronger sex”, and of course, the husband of Eve, failed in his responsibility to protect both himself and his wife from the tempter, Satan. Of utmost importance here is that Paul highlights the very infectious and contagious nature of sin: “Sin” he says: “Entered the world through one man and through sin death…death spread through the human race because everyone has sinned.” This means that sin distorts the flow of life in the human person. It brings about fear, hopelessness and shame, as it did bring to our progenitors because, “righteousness exalts a nation but sin brings reproach” (Prov 14, 34). However, Paul leaves us with the hope of something more certain than even our own existence: “The Divine Grace that flows from Christ.” This means that Christ saves and acquits us. If we cling to him, we will find the strength and grace we need to overcome all forms of temptation to sin. Therefore, this season, as we share in Jesus’ wilderness experience we must seek, find, and cling to this amazing Grace that saves us.
The gospel presents to us exactly the ordeal we go through every day of our life. Of course, the devil being a “spirit” knows what our heart yearns for, and so, capitalizes on this to tempt us. For example, after fasting Jesus was hungry. So, he had to tempt Him with food. Again, Jesus always preached about the Kingdom and His reign in it. So, Satan had to tempt him with the kingdom of the world. Can you see that brethren? Just as Christ, we are every day tempted with these: what to eat and drink, glory that comes through lofty ambitions, and of course wealth and power. These are the things that our hearts yearn for in this mundane world, and definitely are the things through which most of us are trapped. It suffices to note that the devil tempts us with the things we are grossly in need of. It is like the case of someone who went to bed very hungry. It is highly probable that such a person will dream of eating a sumptuous meal in his sleep. There is a saying credited to a certain young man who lamented thus: “Each day I decide to move into the street to look for a wife, all the mad ladies are the only ones that come out that same day!” The great temptation behind this is that if he is not wise enough, all these mad and ugly ladies will “appear very beautiful and good” for marriage. Hence, if you are in need of money the devil tempts you to loot public fund or to rub others. If you are in need of a job, he tempts you to sleep with the recruiter or to offer a bribe. If you are in need of a contract, he tempts you to succumb to kick back, since you are not going to execute the project after all. If you are seeking admission or promotion, he tempts you to cheat in your exams in order to pass. If you are looking for a child, he tempts you to visit the next witch doctor because his/her deity will give you one since God is delaying, and if you are depressed, he tempts you to commit suicide because there is no more hope for you. When we yield to one of his temptations, he continues with the next until we finally perish. He is very subtle in his persuasions, and of course, an expert when it comes to “one step at a time!”
How was Jesus able to overcome Satan and his temptations? He overcame because beforehand he had already fortified himself. He imprisoned the desires of this world, chained and caged his appetite unlike Eve and Adam, and of course, bade farewell to ambitiousness and vainglory. Most importantly, he was not alone in his struggle against Satan and his temptations. He went into partnership with the Holy Spirit. The contract of this pact was sealed during his forty days and nights praying and fasting. Of course, the grace of God flowed for him, and all these put together provided Him with a formidable force against the tempter and his options. My dear friends, this season of Lent and beyond, we too must get ourselves prepared for the great journey ahead. This is because we are entangled in a perilous time and temptations must surely come our way in life especially, through the many lacks and needs we have in our time. If we do not share Jesus’ wilderness experience this season of Lent, we might be caught napping and be overtaken by the tempter. God forbid!
Peace be with you!