To begin Lent with the gospel story from Luke 4 that recounts the story of Jesus fasting in the desert seems at first glance to be entirely appropriate. In one swipe the forty days that Jesus spent there recall the forty years that the Hebrews wandered in the desert. By extension both of those narratives are symbolic of the lifelong pilgrimage that all of us make. Sometimes we know where we’re going, and sometimes not. But like the Hebrews and Jesus, we need time to figure ourselves out, and we are never the same people by the end of the journey. We are purified and wiser people.
The appearance of the devil in the mix, however, is jarring. He’s brazen and almost overconfident in offering three temptations to Jesus, but he thinks he knows his target well. He too knew that Jesus was growing in age and wisdom. He also knew that Jesus had not yet come to terms with the Father’s will for him. Over that issue Jesus will later sweat bullets when he prayed that the cup might pass from him.
What Jesus demonstrates in his response to the devil is his own growing awareness that he had not come to do magic feats that would bedazzle people into believing. He would not force people into unquestioned loyalty, because belief is a free act of faith. He had not come to overwhelm people with his power; rather he came to whisper into their souls and to show himself in the faces of their neighbors.
At the conclusion of this passage Saint Luke notes that the devil left Jesus, “for a while.” In fact, he disappears into some of the possessed people that Jesus will encounter. But he planned a comeback, and he reserved his finest effort for when he revisited Jesus in the Garden. There he tried to persuade Jesus that it didn’t have to end this way. In fact, everything could be so different.
Two things strike me about this passage. First of all, never for a minute does Jesus try to muscle his way into our lives. Jesus never commandeers our free will. He loves us, and as a loving messiah he never drags us kicking and screaming to salvation. Rather he teases us with little signs and small epiphanies. These remind us that there is another dimension to our lives that can be easy to miss. But even if we miss it, it’s still there.
The second point is this. While I’ve not asked our colleagues in the animal world, it strikes me that we human beings may be the only creatures who search for meaning and a mission. Every now and again we question why we are here, and to the extent we can formulate any sort of answer that touches on eternity, we’ve begun to have a glimpse into the divine.
Lent is a reminder that life is a journey and a voyage of discovery. We reach back to the Hebrews in the desert and recall the point of their wanderings. They were not out there for forty years because all the men were too proud to ask directions. They were there because that’s how long it took for them to come to terms with their mission as God’s chosen people.
The sojourn of Jesus in the desert wasn’t quite as dramatic as all that, but when his forty days were up he was ready to begin his public ministry. And his ministry was not a matter of dragooning his apostles and us into following him. Rather, it was a matter of invitation, as he asked people to open their eyes and ears to what was going on around them.
That’s the point of our forty-day journey of Lent. If along the way questions turn up that trouble us or things that stir our doubts, it’s good to realize that that’s the point of the journey. Out of doubt comes faith. Out of questions come insights. Out of struggle comes wisdom. That’s maybe why some of us need forty days to figure out some of this. And if you happen to need a few more days to discover the plan that Jesus has for your life, I’m sure he’ll give you an extension.
+On February 10th I again taught a class in monastic history to our novice.
+On February 11th I attended a meeting in San Jose, CA, to help in the planning of the vigil and investiture services of the Western Association of the Order of Malta, which will take place in June. The vigil will be at the Mission Santa Clara, which is on the campus of Santa Clara University. The investiture will be at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral. Later that evening I had dinner with an alumnus of Saint John’s who has been on the faculty of Bellarmine Jesuit High School in San Jose, for fifty years. (Not a typo.)
+Last week Fr. Geoffrey and Abbot John began a trip to Cuba, with a group of friends of the Abbey. Escorting that trip is an alumna of our Prep School who is now a specialist in Latin American history. She teaches at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and has become a noted expert on Cuba and its culture.
+From childhood I grew to enjoy the stations of the cross and in recent years have grown fascinated with the artistic expressions of this devotion. The stations were meant to be a mental pilgrimage, aimed specifically at those who could not go to Jerusalem. In today’s post I have pictures from a set at Westminster Cathedral in London, and they were made by the noted sculptor and typeface designer Eric Gill. It is among my favorite sets.