Early in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke the authors share a strange and wonderful story of wandering, fasting, and temptation from the life of Jesus (the vignette also appears in a much shorter form in the Gospel of Mark). We are told that immediately following his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, Jesus is led into the wilderness or desert where he fasted for forty days (in the Bible the number forty means "a long time" - consider the forty days and nights of rain, the forty days in the ark, and the forty years in the desert). Following this fast, Jesus was "tempted by the devil." The word that is translated devil here is the Greek word "diabolos" which also means "the accuser, the slanderer, the backbiter." In the story, Jesus is tempted by the accuser three times with three distinct temptations. Each one was targeted at a basic human need or desire. Throughout the next several days we will take a look at these three temptations and Jesus' response as we journey through our own forty days of Lent.
Matthew and Luke begin the story with the slanderer tempting the hungry Jesus to turn stones into bread in order to satiate his hunger pangs. In response to the temptation Jesus quotes a text from the scrolls. His recitation comes from a passage that was to remind the readers and hearers about the forty years they and their ancestors wandered in the desert. The people were to remember that even though they were without a homeland, without direction, and often without food during those many years of wandering God was their guide and provision. It was not by their own strength or their collective wisdom that they survived their years in the desert. In the midst of his own desert Jesus remembers and says to the adversary, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3). The word of the Lord is the word of creation, the word of the Lord is the word of life, the word of the Lord is the word of redemption, the word of the Lord is the word of covenant, the word of the Lord is the word of steadfast love and mercy. One does not live by bread alone.
It is difficult to remember that God is our provision, strength, and guide when we find ourselves wandering in the desert and the pangs of our everyday needs are too great to ignore. Often, at the expense of everything else, we will do nearly anything to satisfy our most pressing needs. That is our most human response. No one can blame us for behaving in such a way. And yet underneath our strivings, our hard work, our longings rests the word of the Lord. The word is evidence of God's creative, redemptive, covenantal presence. The word is our call to remember God's steadfast love and mercy.
Throughout these forty days of Lent may we remember that we are not sustained by our own work and may we seek the creative and life giving word of the Lord.