After this the Spirit led Jesus into the desert so that the devil could tempt him. For 40 days and nights he went without food, leaving him utterly famished. Then the tempter whispered in his ear, “If you are God’s Son, order these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘we do not depend on bread alone for life, but on every word that proceeds from God’s mouth’.” [Matthew 4:1-4]
For many, the season of Lent is synonymous with one thing: temptation. Specifically, it is associated with overcoming that temptation, giving up some old habit perhaps or denying ourselves some luxury, or again turning over a new leaf. The rationale for this is the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, during which he was tempted to turn stones into bread, to bow to Satan and to test God by hurling himself off the highest pinnacle of the temple.
But what does this all mean, actually, for us today? What does it mean this year when we feel that we have been in the desert for far longer than 40 days and nights? When our temptations are perhaps not about whether to eat a chocolate bar or not, but whether we can see how far we can stretch the Government guidance meant to protect us during this terrible time of Covid-19. If everyone else is meeting up in their homes or going out to illegal gatherings, why can’t we?
Too often Lent is understood to be a stick with which we beat ourselves, an example of stern self-discipline that we must follow, and God help us if we fail to do so and give in. We seem to think that if Jesus could do it, then we should be able to as well. But, is that really the point of it? The temptation faced by Jesus was to take the easy path rather than the hard, to fit in with the way of the world instead of walking the way of the cross. It is the fact that he refused to give in, that gives us reason to hope and rejoice despite our faults. He took the road of costly self-sacrifice, the route that led to death in order to bring us life, and he did so not because we deserve it, but precisely because we don’t! Because he loves us as we are, warts and all. For us the sacrifice is to stay safe and stay home. To not meet up with our loved ones however hard that might be. And we can do it for the same reason, because we love
our family and friends.
Lent speaks of the God who longs not to condemn but to forgive, not to punish but to bless. The wilderness days will come to an end and we will, God willing, gather together and celebrate the forgiveness, blessing and most of all the love that God has for each and every one of us.
God bless and keep safe,