Mark’s Gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, where he was tempted. That must mean that being tempted was part of the Father’s plan: Jesus had to be clear about who he was, what he was doing and why he was doing it, so he had to face all the temptations to be a different kind of Messiah from the one his Father had sent him to be. Mark doesn’t give us any details about the temptations, but we know them from the accounts given by Matthew and Luke, who show us Jesus refusing to be just a miracle worker, a showman or a power-seeker, sticking instead to the path of sacrifice his Father had laid out for him.
That kind of clarity can only be found in a desert, whether it’s a physical desert or a metaphorical one: a place of silence, space and time. Jesus needed forty days away the familiar trappings of his life – his family, his friends, his work – to discover his true identity and his true mission.
The Church realised the wisdom of this and gave us the season of Lent: forty days during which we try to find our own desert, to give up some of the things that fill up our minds and our time, so that we can face the important questions in life: Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it?
In the desert, Jesus came face to face with wild animals and angels: the constant threat of danger and the promise of protection. In the deserts we find for ourselves during Lent, we can face up to the worst and the best about ourselves and our life and we can discover the God who is always faithful even when we are not.
Some people think that, as a Church, we are in the wilderness, with falling numbers, negative portrayals in the media and challenges to the values we hold dear. If we are, then we should be grateful to God for this unexpected time of grace and purification. We can trust that he will protect us as he protected Jesus in the desert. All we need to do is resist the temptations that can lead us astray from following the Lord’s command: Repent and believe the Good News.