Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday when we have the ashes from last Palm Sunday’s leaves put on our forehead in the form of a cross. This begins 40 days of fasting from chocolate, Facebook, sugar, television….something. The 40 days recall the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness and his 40 days in the wilderness harkens back to the Israelites’ 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Lent connects us to the whole of Judeo-Christian history.
While we enter the 40 days smeared with ashes and with the spoken words to remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, Jesus entered his 40 days in the wilderness clean. Having just been baptized in the River Jordan he was clean both physically and spiritually. He was led there by the Holy Spirit which had just descended upon him and spoke to him that he was Beloved, and the Son of God.
After 40 days we emerge from Lent physically clean having lived our normal everyday life less one or two things we’ve given up. After 40 days in the wilderness Jesus would have been grimy, dirty, weak, and disoriented from fasting. In a perfect position to fail the testing that was to come. The passage says that during his 40 days of fasting Jesus was tempted by the devil but doesn’t describe those temptations. The first temptation we are told of is one that at first seems to tempt Jesus’ hunger, but really tempts him to question his identity. “IF you are the Son of God…”
Jesus passed this test by refusing to address the question of his identity. Despite the grueling 40 days that he has just experienced he remembers the tradition and scriptures that he was steeped in for the past 30 years. He knows his scripture and remembers the trials of his ancestors and the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “...so he made you go hungry. Then he gave you manna, a kind of food that you and your ancestors had never even heard about. The Lord was teaching you that people need more than food to live - they need every word that the Lord has spoken.” (CEV)
What the writer of Deuteronomy and what Jesus is saying is, God provides. That we must not neglect feeding on the word of God. That there is a spiritual hunger that is just as important to feed as your physical hunger. Jesus is not distracted by questions as to his identity because in addition to being told at his baptism that he was the Son of God, he was steeped in his faith and traditions.
How many times do we feel like an impostor? And how little testing does it take for us to question our identity? Especially our identity as Christians. How rooted are we in our scriptures and traditions? May we use this time of Lent to examine who we are and how rooted we are in our identity. Would it take much or little to prompt us to question our identity? What do we do daily to reinforce our self-identity as Christians and to steep us in our Judeo-Christian roots? To revive a phrase from my youth, What Would Jesus Do?