Strange as it may seem to us so soon after Advent and Christmas, but this is the fifth Sunday of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, we began our Lenten Pilgrimage with Jesus as we prepare to celebrate Easter. However, we have some way to go with Jesus and each other before we can experience the joy and new life of Easter.
Our gospel this Sunday sees Jesus being led into the desert. The gospel puts it rather more seriously than Jesus being led into the desert! It opens with the words, The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness (desert) and remained with him for forty days. Why was Jesus led or driven in to the desert?
The desert in Jewish history is very important. When God freed and saved the People of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they spent forty years in the desert. They wandered and sometimes got lost as they tried to find their way to the Promised Land. This was not an easy journey for them. At times they lost faith in each other and in God. They forgot the promise that God made with them; ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ As they made their way through the desert, many would have stopped travelling and settled near the closest oasis or watering hole. Some others would have joined others tribes and religions that they met on along the way. Famously, when they were at their lowest, they made a statue of a golden calf and began to worship it. They had forgotten where they had come from, what God had done for them and lost sight of where God was leading them.
It is no surprise that we begin Lent with Jesus in the desert. Like his ancestors, he too is tried, tested and tempted. However, Jesus refused to give up or give in so quickly or so easily. Although our gospel for this Sunday is written by St. Mark, the gospel of St. Matthew gives us more information about what might have happened to Jesus. He is tempted with the false gifts of power, prestige and wealth. His power and identity come from God. Jesus knows who he is, where he comes from and where he is going on his own journey. He leaves the desert with these powerful words which he offers us today; ‘The time has come, the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’ What is this Good News that Jesus asks us to hear and believe? It is the good news that each of us is created, loved and forgiven by God.
As we begin our own Lenten journey today, we need to recall and remember that we are not setting out on this journey on our own. God is with us walking by our side very step of way. When we are tempted, we need to follow the example of Jesus. He did not rely on his own strength. He turned to God and asked for help which he received. We will not be able to walk the Lenten journey on our own. We need to realise that like Jesus, we too need God’s help, support, guidance and protection. Whenever we feel tired or ready to give up or give in, we need to turn to God for encouragement. We know that God will be with us during Lent as God was with Jesus when he was in the desert. God will never leave us alone.