THIS SUNDAY’S gospel brings us to one of the most unlivable places on earth — the desert. The desert, as we know it, is a parched land that can hardly support life. It lacks most of the comforts of everyday living; in fact, even the most basic things needed for human survival are missing. Food and water are scarce, and shelter (even a shade) is hard to find. Consequently, the desert is often equated with poverty, inadequacy, emptiness, loneliness, and danger. Thus, the desert is a place that people would rather avoid than seek.
In this Sunday’s gospel, it is in this unfriendly place that the Spirit led Jesus. It was here where the Lord stayed for forty days, praying and fasting, tempted by the devil, threatened by wild beasts, but ministered by the angels.
Given this setting we cannot avoid asking, “Why would God want Jesus to stay there?” The answer is that God was preparing Jesus for his mission — that of preaching the gospel, healing the sick, setting the captives free, and ultimately, suffering and dying on the cross to save us. The mission was not easy, and so, Jesus had to be conformed to the heart and mind of the Father if he were to accomplish it successfully.
The desert experience taught Jesus what counts most in life, not the temporal but the eternal, not the material but the spiritual, and not the wide road that leads to destruction but the narrow road that proceeds to salvation. Famished, he learned that man lives not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Tempted to exhibit pride as the Son of God, he stood his ground not to put God to the test; and lured with the splendor, pomp, and idols of this world, he was unshakeable in his conviction to worship the Lord God and only him. Jesus had to be in a difficult situation in order to learn to depend on God alone, and he had to face temptations to prove that God’s power is stronger than the power of darkness. Yes, Jesus had to go through the refining fire so he can blaze in his glory.
Like Jesus, God allows us to pass through our own spiritual desert experiences, difficult times and moments that test our faith, define our core, and transform us into better Christians. Like the Israelites who had their own 40-year journey in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, we can be assured that God will be with us every step of the way. And like Jesus, let us leave the desert emboldened to carry out our own mission in life, trusting in these words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)