The Gospel for this first Sunday is Luke 4:1-13. Luke was writing for a largely non-Jewish audience and has a marked interest in the role of women and the condition of the poor. In this passage Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness and undergoes the classic testing of his character – facing the demands of the ego for self-sufficiency and self-importance, demands that he sees through and thus becomes free to embrace his true self and his mission.
Jesus full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days and when they were over he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread….When the devil had finished every test he depart from him until an opportune time.
For the week ahead there is plenty to reflect on here. It’s worth comparing with Mark’s simpler and more concise account and even memorising. What does ‘the Spirit’ mean? Have you ever felt him, it or she ever drive you to do anything? Have you ever felt you should have done something but failed or refused to for fear or doubt? If not, skip to the next question.
What might ‘the desert’ symbolise for you? In Israel, that tiny and endlessly troublesome state, the relatively small Judaean desert is not far from Jerusalem but is certainly dry and leads down to the Dead Sea. Where have your dry periods been? Maybe they were not of your choosing. But it’s not unknown either for people to want to detach from an over-abundance of watering – to get away from the media, from work, from crowds or from the phony phantoms of one’s self. What was it you were looking for then? In meditation are you looking for that quality of truth that you find in the desert or for just another kind of watering?
‘Tempted by Satan’ might be translated as ‘pushed to one’s limits’ – where we don’t want to go in case we fall off the edge of the known world. Have you ever touched your limits?
The ‘wild beasts’ that Mark mentions come out at night, from the cupboards of the unconscious. Once faced they shrink away and disappear and all the force they carried accrues to you for good. Having pierced through the bonds of illusion and found his true self, Jesus returns to the world and delivers what he has to say simply and incisively. There is urgency, immediacy, an unhoped-for hope, an unambiguous call to a change of mind.
Within the forty days, our brief forays into the desert of meditation can reveal surprising and wonderful discoveries. We fear the big surprises of life – like a change of mind. But what if, after all, there was nothing to fear in the desert or anywhere else? Nothing to lose except our limitations?