“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” – Matthew 4:1
Traveling south from Galilee, the landscape begins to change dramatically. The fertile fields and abundant fruit trees disappear, and a harsh, inhospitable desert replaces them. Its rolling hills are rocky and ever changing, shaped by winds, erosion and the searing heat. I had imagined it to be much different – kinder, with scrubby, little trees and a cactus or two scattered here and there. Besides the occasional shepherd with his flock of goats, it is desolate and utterly bare…more like the surface of the moon.
How appropriate that this parched land should be where Jesus would meet the devil and consent to be tempted. His time spent here – forty days and forty nights – is significant. It brings to mind various periods of preparation and testing from the Old Testament: the days Noah spent in the Ark while God cleansed the earth; Moses’ fasting and prayer, as God revealed His Commandments; and the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert before entering the Promised Land.1 Whereas Adam yielded to Satan’s temptations, Jesus – the “new Adam” – remains faithful.2 He gives us the key to confronting and overcoming our own temptations – time spent in prayer.
Throughout the ages, the Judean desert has been home to hermits and monks alike, dwelling in its many caves and residing in monasteries built into the sides of the mountains. It’s the perfect setting for prayer and contemplation. Here, in this “deserted place,” our thoughts are distilled and our intentions are purified. Imitating our Lord, we must retreat from the world from time to time. The forty days of Lent have been given to us especially for this purpose. In the same way that Jesus crossed these hills, we must allow Him to traverse the barren landscape of our hearts, trusting that He alone can transform it. He will be for us that rock in the desert, broken open and gushing forth a stream of life-giving water. Jesus wants to fill us, turning the dry land of our hearts into a verdant pasture.
“He pierced the rock to give them water; it gushed forth in the desert like a river.” Psalm 105:41
– Kelley Holy
1 Cf. Genesis 7:12, Exodus 34:28, and Numbers 14:34
2 Cf. CCC 538