Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent
Theme: Christ in the Desert
By: Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico
Homily for Sunday March 6 2022
Each year Holy Mother Church gives us this season of Lent to renew our intention of living more completely for Christ. Lent is a word in English that is related to “length” or “lengthen,” and fittingly, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, Lent coincides with the lengthening of days we are now experiencing. This is an apt image of our desire to grow closer to God and one another, which is certainly one of the goals of the Lenten season.
Because of the name of my Monastery, Christ in the Desert, I like to call this “Christ in the Desert Sunday.” Desiring to share in our human condition, Jesus was tempted, but overcame all temptations by the power and grace bestowed on him by the heavenly Father. “Jesus is divine,” we might reply, “easy enough for him.” Nonetheless, we must remember what St Paul wrote: “Christ humbled himself and took on the form of a servant.” Why? To fully partake in our human condition, even in trial and temptation and to raise our fallen nature to share in God’s life, forever.
The Evangelists—this year we hear the account according to Saint Luke–tell us that Jesus was “led by the Holy Spirit” into the wilderness, to spend forty days and nights in prayer and fasting. The Spirit did not lead Jesus into temptation, but was the sustaining power with Jesus during his temptation as well.
Like other servants of God, such as Abraham and Moses, even the Israelites as a people and Elijah the prophet, Jesus is no exception to those who are “put in the test,” not in order to trip them up, but to demonstrate that it is God who is in control, who can overcome evil and prove victorious, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Jesus, of course, is the supreme model of this lesson, whose obedience to the will of the Father meant overthrowing the evil one who held everyone captive to sin and fear of death. The obedience of Jesus shown in embracing the cross reversed the disobedience of God’s first humans, described in the Book Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The victory of Christ over sin and death likewise won for the human race not only pardon for sin, but also adoption as God’s sons and daughters.
Let us consider each of the temptations Christ endured in the desert. Satan himself starts from the fact of the Messianic mission of Jesus. The devil never doubts this fact, but proposes ways and means for the mission of Christ that are contrary to the course preordained by God. In other words, the devil urges Jesus to do other than the will of God.
Satan begins, in the first temptation, when Jesus is physically hungry after prayer and fasting, by suggesting to Jesus that he should be “human” and “normal,” that is, fulfill his craving for food by turning stones into bread. “Use your miraculous powers and satisfy your hunger,” Satan is saying.
Jesus replies with a text from the Book of Deuteronomy (chapter 8, verse 3), which includes the notion that God fed his children in the wilderness with manna, something new and strange, desiring that the people understand that “it is not on bread alone that man lives, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And Jesus say elsewhere: “I myself am the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6.41; also v. 35)?
Satan tries to lead Jesus astray, away from the narrow path, the difficult course that God has planned for his mission. But Jesus is not moved by the devil to do other than the Father’s will, even if that means suffering a horrible death.
Satan turns this defeat into a means of attack in the second temptation. If Jesus trusted that the Father would not let him starve, why should Jesus not show even greater trust and “prostrate yourself in homage before me, and all the kingdoms of the world shall be yours.” Jesus answers this temptation with another quote from Deuteronomy, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore.”
Finally, the devil takes Jesus to absurd heights and tries to get the Lord to throw himself from the parapet of the temple, entrusting himself into the hands of the angels, but Jesus counters with, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Unshaken in adherence to God’s will, Jesus does not give in to the devil who finally leaves Jesus, awaiting another opportunity, most particularly in the Garden of Gethsemani and on the cross.
Representing and standing in place of the whole human race, Christ defeated Satan in rejecting the way of comfort and ease, prestige and power, success and adulation. Instead, he chose the way of becoming the Suffering Servant, really and truly. In so doing, Jesus won for us the ability to share in divine life.
What Jesus shows us in the desert is the ideal of every Christian life: complete service of God, living the Gospel without compromise. That is certainly what our Christian call requires of us to be authentic and faithful in our following of Jesus Christ.
In Christ we gain the victory over Satan, we become co-heirs of Christ’s resurrected life, which cannot be taken away. May we be vigilant and reject all that is contrary to the Gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives!