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– Sunday Week 1 of Lent –

‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”’   [Matthew 4:1-4]

Matthew places before us the beginning of the plan of the salvation of humanity in the person of Jesus.

In Genesis 2, we have the temptation of Adam and Eve. The temptation was not resisted, and the serpent succeeds. In Matthew 4, we see the beginning of the great reversal of the fall. Here, the tempter is not successful. We read of Jesus, just baptised and divinely affirmed by God as the beloved son, drawn out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.

The wilderness is a recurring motif throughout scripture. It represents a place of preparation, of waiting for God, of learning to trust in God’s action. We see this motif in Exodus 34:28, where Moses receiving the ten commandments of the covenant, fasts for forty days. In 1 Kings 19:8, Elijah fasts for forty days and nights, and the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years (Exodus 16:35).

In Matthew 4, Jesus is not portrayed as a great and powerful king, as one might expect so soon after his baptism, facing off against Satan. Instead, here we see a man vulnerable and unprotected, but knowing who he is and whose he is. He is alone in the wilderness, with no signposts or recognisable comforts and has only the Word of God to rely on. Jesus responds to Satan’s temptations with words from Deuteronomy and brings these words of the Law alive.

Jesus’ actions in resisting the tempter show us the direction we also must take: “the exhortation which the Lord addresses to us through the prophet Joel is strong and clear: ‘return to me with your whole heart’ (Joel 2:12)” (Pope Francis, Ash Wednesday, 2014). Yet, the truth is I will not always succeed, either in imitating Jesus or returning to God with my whole heart. In this presentation of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we see Jesus doing for us what we cannot and could not do alone. And we are invited to participate in his victory over evil.


by Janiene Wilson

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