“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days…”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has just been baptized in the Jordan River by John. Next, he goes into the desert to fast and pray. These are two very visible actions, which all can see. They are meant for public observation. They are symbols of piety and faith.
But then, Jesus goes alone into the desert.
How then do we reconcile the first reading, bringing the first fruits and presenting them publicly in the Temple, with our Lord’s teaching:
“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.” (Mt. 6:16)
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
There is a time for everything under the heaven, we are told, but the time that we spend in Lent should be between us and our Lord. And the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we are taught to perform are to help us to learn to speak more directly, more honestly with God. It is not just a period of giving something up or performing certain acts, but a time when we can learn to hear the word of God.
And as the Quakers say, the word of God is a still, small voice within…and sometimes we are being spoken to but cannot hear because of the intrusions of the world.
In the second reading, Paul tells us that “the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” Again, a solitary state of being…us and God. And what do we have to do to be saved and justified? Confess with our mouths and believe with our hearts. Alone, meaning with no one around; and alone, meaning that’s all that’s necessary.
During this Lenten season we can take up the time-honored practices and abstain, give, and pray. These are disciplines that are done in preparation. Practices that resemble an athlete’s muscle-memory exercises to train the body to strive more completely.
But we can also stop, concentrate, focus, and search for that still, small voice within that is the voice of God.
For that is what Lent is about in one sense: teaching us how to be athletes of our Lord, able to bear hardships, pain, trials and tribulations so that we can win the laurel wreath of peace and salvation. For hardships do and will come and our time in the desert of these 40 days will train our souls, our bodies, our minds to persevere even unto death as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today Lord, help us to train ourselves for your resurrection, that we can experience it with all the joy that your followers knew when they saw the fulfillment of your promise on the Sunday of Easter. Amen.