Time in the Desert


February 28, 2020
Travis Neuman, nSJ, Office of Mission and Ministry

The Gospel reading from the first Sunday of Lent presents Jesus in the desert faced with the temptations of riches, honor and pride. Deserts are the places of vision quests, cacti, mirages and star-flooded night skies. Mystical beauty. They’re also desolate places with scarce resources to sustain human life much less foster its flourishing. There’s no place to hide. Metaphorically, there are no distractions to hide behind, no ways to procrastinate and no creature comforts to distract me from loving God or others.  One is exposed to harsh elements, vulnerable and completely reliant on God. We spend 40 days of lent emptying ourselves before Jesus’ passion, so we are freer to love God and others and, hopefully, so we can more fully be filled on Easter, the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert.” Many Christian mystics wrote that prayer and intimacy with God is a grace that one can’t force, but can only make oneself receptive to by practicing gratitude and attentive silence. So I start this Lent with gratitude to work in the vibrant Mission and Ministry Office surrounded by the kindest students and best Tik Tok dancers on campus.

After fasting for 40 days and nights, “the tempter” asked Jesus to prove his divine nature by turning stones into loaves of bread. The bread might represent any creature comfort or riches I can use to feel protected from needing to rely on God. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Jesus is then placed on the highest parapet of the temple, the center of Jewish life, and told to test God, but he resists. Thirdly, Jesus is offered all the kingdoms of the world if he only worships Satan. Jesus quotes scripture, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.”

The church and Jesus ask me to use Lent to strip myself of unnecessary attachments, particularly from those attachments that keep me from growing closer to Christ (riches, honor and pride). I’m challenged to “man up” in the healthiest way that term can be used. Some days I resist and press snooze, but it helps to know that God embraces His humanity and invites me to travel with Him.  “The tempter is trying to trick me, but don’t worry. Come with me and we will do this together.”