In the Desert with Jesus - and the Old Testament

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Christ Rising from the Tomb, Gaudenzio Ferrari, 1530-1546, National Gallery, London, United Kingdom, Wikimedia Commons

In the gospel accounts of Jesus’s forty days in the desert, what we don’t learn is almost as fascinating as what we do.

Mark’s mention in chapter 1, verses 12-13 is little more than an entry in Jesus’ social calendar (though the gospel writer does score points for mentioning that Our Lord was “with the wild beasts”).

And while Luke’s account (4:1–13) and Matthew’s (4:1­­–1­1) are slightly more thorough, they focus on Satan’s tri-fold temptations. Beyond the showdown between Jesus and the tempter, all the gospel writers tell us about those forty days is that, when they were finished, Jesus “was hungry.” (How’s that for an understatement?)

Christ’s example teaches us plenty about resisting the Devil, the World, and the Flesh. But what else did our Lord do during those forty days?

The gospels indicate that the Holy Spirit was preparing Jesus for the culmination of His earthly mission. It’s hard to imagine his thoughts not turning to every promise God made in every stage of salvation history and how He Himself would soon make good on those promises.

His forty days—and our forty days—are more than just an opportunity for us to slash caloric intake. They’re more than a media detox. They’re an invitation to reconnect with our spiritual heritage—not only with Our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary, but also with the monumental, multi-phase story of salvation history.

This is the focus of the St. Paul Center’s newest video Bible Study,  , which begins streaming for free on Ash Wednesday through Easter. Genesis to Jesus is meant to help us recognize our place in salvation history and connect our story to the long story of God’s chosen people.

We can’t take for granted that Jesus wouldn’t have had to redeem us if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned in the Garden of Eden. God made a promise extending eternal life to them, welcoming them as His children, but they failed to resist temptation and broke their half of the bargain. How many of us, perhaps even on a daily basis, also fail to live up to our baptismal promises? It’s a difficult question, but a useful starting place in our Lenten journey.

We can also reflect on the promises God made to Noah as the earth was flooded to wipe away the wickedness of mankind. Catholics frequently lament that we’re living among a wicked generation. But can we each think of areas where we have personally contributed to a culture of death—if through nothing else than complacency?

God’s promises to Abraham—nationhood, a great name, and worldwide blessing—call for radical faith and obedience. It can be difficult to trust God in the face of the uncertain trials of life—unemployment, infertility, broken families, and so on. And yet it’s exactly trust that these trials demand. In these forty days, can we listen to the voice of the Lord, even when what we hear is uncomfortable?

And like Moses, will we seek deliverance? What sins enslave us? Can we admit our own wrongdoing and overcome persistent sin? Moses is given the Law to show God’s people the path to salvation. In this same way, we can use Lent as a time to learn more about the teachings of the Church, especially as they apply to our own personal temptations, like gossip, consumerism, and so on

Lastly, God’s promises to David bring about a kingdom on earth. Of all the features of this kingdom, right worship is one of the most central. As we abstain from bodily pleasures this Lent, can we redirect our longings to a more full participation in the Church’s Liturgy and treasury of devotions? David’s psalms—the heart of the Liturgy of the Hours—speak to a range of human experience. They were part of Jesus’s vocabulary. They should be part of ours, too.

The mysterious silence of Scripture on the details of Jesus’ journey in the wilderness invites us to deep and meaningful contemplation. And more, it incites us to action.

One way to respond immediately is to participate in Genesis to Jesus this Lent. As one of the largest Catholic Bible studies in the world, it provides an opportunity for us to heed Christ’s words: “Man does not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Plumbing the breadth of the Old Testament to show how it points to Christ, Genesis to Jesus is a spiritual exercise that informs us just as it prompts us to deeper reflection.

As we walk toward the wilderness of Lent, let’s do so with a mind to more fully immerse ourselves in Our Lord’s experience—and the experience of God’s chosen people from the beginning.


Copyright 2019 The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

The St. Paul Center is a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. Scott Hahn to promote life-changing encounters with Sacred Scripture. We read the Bible from the heart of the Church, in light of the Church’s Liturgy and living Tradition. This Lent, enter into deeper contemplation of Jesus’ saving mission. Preview the series, then find out how you can participate in Genesis to Jesus, a free video Bible study from the St. Paul Center.

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