Luke 3: 21-22, Luke 4:1-2
21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened
22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
1 Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert
2 for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.
Jesus was baptized and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Our baptisms open that gate to holiness for us as well, but what do we do with it? I know what Jesus did with it: he went into the desert, to wrestle one-on-one with evil, to show evil who was boss. As you may notice, he prayed first.
Lent. The party time is over, the rich food is all eaten, the alcohol has been imbibed, and a sober morning faces us all. What do you do now? You have forty days of preparation before the grand celebration of our salvation begins. I suggest you pray first. Always.
Jesus spent forty lonely days in that desert. He was hungry. I can only imagine the hunger pains that kept him awake at night. Away from his family and friends, he was lonely. This was a resolution beyond what most of us could bear. Aside from his praying, the only sounds were the winds that blew and the occasional bird cry.
At the end of those forty days, when he was at his weakest, the devil arrived to tempt him with food, power, and ego:
Luke 4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
6 The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.
7 All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
8 Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’”
9 Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
10 for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’
11 and: ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
Note that when the devil was done with Jesus, he “departed from him for a time”. Jesus knew he would be back. But what happened when he finished telling the devil to go to hell?
Luke 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
Defeating evil gave him power, and he was filled the Sprit, and he began his ministry in earnest.
So, what will you do with this powerful season? In my work with the youth in my parish, I had several students who were troublemakers, to the point that they actually drove me from my class in tears one night. During our retreat, they shared some of the pain that they were carrying from their childhood. I suggested that for Lent they give up their pain and anger. Just give it up. Let Jesus carry it for them. I pointed out that dragging that baggage around only slowed them down on their journey. Kick evil in the butt and get it out of their lives. Pray!
All three of them took my advice. It required a little one-on-one with one of them, but they agreed to do it. It wasn’t easy. We humans tend to like our baggage. It makes us feel safe. We know who we are. Our victimhood gives us identity, recognition, and compassion from others. To leave it behind is scary. What do you do with that empty space where your anger used to be?
I do not know what happened to one of them. He moved away, I think, so I don’t get a chance to see him. I do know that in our private conversations, he was undergoing a conversion. The other two have filled that hole with the Holy Spirit. One is contemplating the priesthood, and another is so calm, so helpful, so involved in church activities that it is hard to believe it is the same teenager.
They have emulated Jesus. They have struggled with evil and won, and have returned filled with the Spirit.
Do we have the courage to do the same? Are you willing to go into that desert, search your soul, find the evil you carry with you, and give it a royal send-off? Are you ready to let the Spirit work within you to change your life, and the lives of those around you? It IS Lent, after all.
Defeat evil. Get your power back.
I suggest you pray first.