Jesus in the Desert

1st Sunday of Lent
18 February 2018

Gen 9:8-15
1 Pt 3:18-22
Mk 1:12-15

Our gospel text this Sunday follows straight after Jesus’ Baptism. In other words, right after the Spirit descends upon Jesus and He is affirmed as God’s Son (Mk 1:11), the Spirit leads Jesus to the desert to be tempted by the devil.

How surprising it is that this is the Spirit’s first command! And yet, how fitting too! As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Jesus’ time in the desert “is a descent into the perils besetting mankind, for there is no other way to lift up fallen humanity.”

Temptation and Passion—the struggle to be faithful to God’s call–are thus the bookends to Jesus’ public ministry and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ experience of humanity’s trials is also fortified by the length of time that Jesus spent in the desert: forty days. This number is rich with symbolism. First, it recalls Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert, a period in which the people were tempted but also enjoyed a special closeness with God. Second, it reminds us of the forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai before he received the sacred tablets of the Covenant. Third, it also recalls Abraham’s forty days and nights on the way to Mount Horeb to sacrifice his son.

Thus, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “the forty days of fasting embrace the drama of history, which Jesus takes into Himself and bears all the way through to the end.”

And Jesus is the perfect man for the job. As one who is fully man and thus perfectly human, Jesus is the New Adam.

In this regard, this gospel text sharply contrasts the parallels between Jesus and Adam. Whereas Adam was bestowed a garden, Jesus now seeks out a desert. Whereas Adam held communion with creatures, Jesus treated with wild beasts. Whereas Adam wanted for nothing yet gave in to temptation, Jesus fasted and remained faithful.

In these forty days, Jesus then turns the desert into a place of reconciliation and healing. Wild beasts, the most concrete threat that the Fall had posed to men, now become Man’s friends, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out. As Isaiah prophesied in 11:6, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” Once sin has been overcome and man’s harmony with God is restored, creation is thus reconciled too.

While Israel’s rebellion had brought death and alienation, Jesus’ sustained obedience brings forth the new Israel of God. While Adam had broken communion with God and Creation, Jesus restores it.

As we begin this season of Lent, let us thus draw strength from Jesus who, as fully man (and fully God), also fasted and endured temptation. As we struggle to live out our faith, let us take comfort that Jesus struggled too. And as we hold firm in obedience, let us look towards the greater communion with God and His Creation that our faith will bring us to.


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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale.