As well as being St David’s day, March 1st this year marks the beginning of Lent, the time when the Church prepares for Easter by remembering Jesus’ forty days in the desert where he was tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4 and Luke 4).
Whilst this might all sound a bit grim, it was actually a very positive time for Jesus as he prepared for his future ministry and, I believe, has some important things to teach us.
Jesus’ desert experience was a time of personal discovery, a time where his identity was both questioned and affirmed. In the desert Jesus was effectively asked ‘Who are you and what do you want?’ Two of the temptations started ‘If you are the Son of God…’ and then challenged him to prove who he was by either turning stones into bread or jumping from a tall building and trusting the angels to catch him. In both cases Jesus’ response was rooted in his relationship with his Father. The third temptation offered Jesus instant fame and glory if he switched allegiance from his Father to the devil. Again Jesus’ response was based on his relationship with his Father who alone should be served and worshipped.
Jesus’ identity was never in doubt, he knew that his identity was founded solely on his relationship with his Father and what his Father said about him, and not on the things he could do or on what other people might say about him. This inner knowledge was affirmed in his time in the desert and was the foundation for his up and coming ministry.
We all go through times that feel like desert experiences, times that feel dry and barren, times when we feel alone, times when we are tempted to do things we shouldn’t do, or to take the easy option. The message for us from Jesus’ time in the desert is that these can be times of personal growth, times when we discover that our true identity is not in what we do or in what others say about us, but in our relationship with God and in what he says about us. Moreover, these are times of preparation for future ministry as God uses all that we have learnt on our journey of faith to help others on a similar path. As rich as these desert times can become, the good news is that they don’t last for ever; God has plans for all of us; to be blessed and to be a blessing.
Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!