Reflection by: Elizabeth Anthony, Blended Learning Project Coordinator
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights…
It’s pretty amazing to me that Matthew begins today’s Gospel by only briefly mentioning that Jesus spent forty days and forty nights alone in the desert. Most of us cruise through these first few lines of the reading to get to the more exciting story about the devil’s attempts to tempt Jesus without pausing to reflect on the content of this introduction.
Jesus spent forty days alone in the desert. When we take a moment to consider what it really means to spend 40 days alone, Matthew’s casual statement might stop us in our tracks. When was the last time we spent even 40 minutes truly alone - without our iPhone, laptop, spouse, or a task at hand- let alone forty days? For most of us, the last time this happened was too long ago to remember.
This story is not the only one in which Jesus seeks private prayer and reflection - in fact, you can probably think of numerous instances throughout the Gospels in which Jesus leaves his beloved disciples for time by himself. Perhaps one of the important messages that this reading, and others in the Gospels, communicates is the importance to our spiritual lives of solitude.
In Rules for a Knight, author Ethan Hawke writes about solitude: “The voice of our spirit is gentle and cannot be heard when it has to compete with others.” Though Hawke refers to our own spirit in this passage, I think the quote applies just as well to the voice of the Holy Spirit. God has messages and words of wisdom for each of us, but we may be drowning out his voice with other distractions, making it impossible for Him to be heard.
With whom or what does God’s voice have to compete in your life? I know the “ding” of my iPhone, the email alerts on my laptop, and the constant feeling that I need to be doing something make it enormously difficult for me to stop and listen to what God is trying to say on a daily basis. God has so much competition in my life, it is a miracle that His word ever gets to me at all.
After Jesus’ time alone in the desert, he has the fortitude to resist temptation from the devil and stay true to His Father. Jesus needed this time alone to connect with God before He was ready to face such a challenge from the devil, and I think He might be telling us that we need to take that time, too. As we prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus during this Lenten season, let us take time for solitude, to minimize God’s competition in our lives and simply to listen to His voice in our hearts.