I have never been to the DESERT. However I have seen pictures of the desert. The pictures show a place of many contradictions. It is a place of stark, barren wide open space. It can be very hot in the scorching heat of the day and in contrast very cool in the dark of the night. It is a place where nothing appears to grow while at the same time I have seen pictures of beautiful "desert flowers" in full bloom. The strong winds cause some of the sand dunes to shift from location to location. Some even use that metaphor in our language-the shifting sands. I have seen pictures of wars in the desert where the sand storms cut to the core, ripping apart tents and shelters. One recent war was called "Desert Storm". Blinding wind; blowing sand; sand in your ears, eyes, and nose all lead to chaos and the cessation of all activity. The closest thing we have to the desert sand storm is our "blizzard" where white out conditions cause a great deal of disorientation. Some may die in the desert and some may die in a bitter blizzard. Many people move through life in their day to day journey without a care in the world and then they find themselves passing through yet another desert experience. They need to pause and reflect on the choices they are making in their life.
One of the central themes for this the First Sunday of Lent centers on the choices we each have the ability to make; what is the criteria we use for these choices; and the out come of the choices we make in life.
In our first reading we hear the story of Adam and Eve and the process of their choices. This ancient story is used to set the theme of the basic choice of good or evil; self satisfaction or the realization that there is a place for God in my life; Am I dominate or do I have a need to realize the presence of God in my life and the lives of others. We all know the story's conclusion. What Adam and Eve thought from their human perspective and blinded vision simply led them to realize their nakedness and utter helplessness. That experience was much more than physical nakedness but the realization of their total vulnerability. Are there times in our lives that we think we know it all? Are there times that the temptations of our humanness are so powerful that we can not see our need for God to fill our life?
St. Paul in his writing to the people in Rome makes a clear contrast between the evil brought into the world by the destructive choice of Adam and Eve and the redemptive life of Jesus. It seems one of the ultimate sins is the rejection of God while the ultimate redemption is the realization that God does exist and God's presence is within me and everyone I meet. As strong as sin is the power of God's grace is exponentially greater. If we are open and alive, we can see the presence of God every day in many situations. God's gift to us is not a one time thing but God's saving gifts are extended to us in many ways.
Like Israel of old Jesus was tested for an extended period in the desert (Israel for 40 years; Jesus for 40 days). While the Israelites did not always fare well in their struggles-they complained against God, questioned the divine presence and rebelled against Moses---Jesus' desert experience has taught us how to conduct ourselves when put to the test.
Jesus' first test ("Command that these stones become loaves of bread") was reminiscent of the manna in the wilderness; Jesus' response to the tempter was a direct quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, which affirmed the importance of finding sustenance and nourishment in God's word. Whereas the Israelites eventually complained about the manna, Jesus' example teaches trust in God and in divine providence.
The second and third temptations centered on Satan giving Jesus total power and control-all lands and all authority would be given to Jesus if Jesus simply submitted to Satan the prince of evil and corruption. Jesus stood up to Satan with his final command, "Get away Satan"! "The Lord your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve". "Angels came and ministered to him."
The temptations of Satan are not just something we read about in history-no the power of Satan and evil is very much present today. We have witnessed how the temptation of money can corrupt every value a person once held. We can see this in the ponzi schemes of individuals and corporations. The temptation to power and prestige can corrupt institutions which on the surface seem to have lost sight of the simple message of Jesus to feed the hungry, visit the sick, shelter the homeless. Even today the church can seem to many, especially outsiders, like a grand museum or antiquated monarchy with its ecclesiastical fashion shows and throne room protocols. This rightly troubles many who come to the church looking for the itinerant Jesus who welcomed the weak and the poor and rejected all pomp and privilege. Those seeking a compassionate Jesus instead encounter judgment and exclusion from his church. Jesus rejected power and control.
During this Lent Jesus invites us into the desert with him. We are invited not into a specific geographical place easily located on our GPS. Lent is not only confined to a specific 6 week period of time on our calendar. Our Lenten experience can come to us at any time. Throughout the year we will find ourselves in the desert experience spiritually. We will find ourselves lost; thirsting; seeking nourishment; sustenance. It is at these times in the silence of the abandonment of the desert where we will find God. The silence of the desert can be deafening; the feeling of abandonment will be real; the sense of hopelessness will be devastating; the lack of nourishment will naught at the fiber of our life.
As we begin this Lenten 6 week period in our church year take a step back and look at ourselves to assess how we have staved off the temptations of the devil. It is time to renew our commitment to prayer; fasting; and almsgiving. Set aside time each day for personal prayer; read the readings for the Sunday liturgy before coming each week to worship with the community. The readings for each day of the week are listed on the bottom of the front of the Sunday bulletin. It is O.K. to be hungry from time to time---maybe this experience will help us identify with those who are hungry all the time. If possible can we find a few dollars at the end of the month to give to our favorite charity; are there some clothing items we really do not need and others can use? When Jean was in the convent one concept she had learned was, "If you have not used it in the last year-you do not need it." We would regularly go through clothing and other things and give them to charity. We tried to live simply so others could simply live.
Lent can come at any moment, and the wilderness always waits at the edges of our often too comfortable lives, ready to challenge our sense of self-sufficiency and conventional virtue. Lent invites us to go into the desert for awhile and renew our faith in God who has told us we will never be tested beyond our faith. Lenten desert time is a time of faith testing. Will I; will you pass the test?