“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…
was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness,
tempted by the devil.”
Each of the three synoptic Gospel writers who mention the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew, Mark and Luke) anchor the temptation solidly between two other events: Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
What might they be trying to tell us about Jesus—and ourselves–by this sequence?
First, perhaps to remind us that we are not alone in what we experience in life…good or ill. The Holy Spirit, poured out to us at our Baptism– the very same Spirit who told Jesus he was God’s “beloved Son” –is with us in times of joy as well as in times of suffering. Through this single event of Baptism, we, too, become “beloved” sons and daughters of God.
Second, times of trial and temptation are a necessary part of our life experience. The old adage here of “If God leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it” comes to mind. Not everywhere the Spirit leads us will be a pleasant one; but even the unpleasant experiences will be worth it, if we endure.
Third, that we are all called to a life of ministry, by using our suffering to help others. How much would we be willing to listen to someone who has never suffered in life? How much do we think they would be able to relate to us, if they have never suffered? Not much at all, of course! Why? Because it is primarily through someone else having “been there, done that” and showing empathy and compassion for our own suffering that usually resonates the loudest with us. This type of “ministry” is at the very heart of Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs. Only those who have suffered the effects of drugs and alcohol addiction, and then learned to overcome that addiction have earned the right to be heard by those who are suffering. It is someone else’s stories of triumph over the type of suffering we also experience, that softens us enough for our “ears to hear and eyes to see” (Matt 13).
Each of us, no matter what lot in life we’ve been dealt, knows suffering and knows joy. Let us use this season of Lent to live out the faith of that cycle—suffering, joy; suffering, joy; suffering, joy—so that we may help others do the same. Most of us are not going to live a life experience of preaching to crowds of people, true. But each of us knows someone who may, right now, have it just a little worse than we do. Let’s let our life be a beacon of hope to that person, and let our experience of suffering be the doorway to compassion we need in order to help them through. That may be the closest to “ministry” most of us will ever get; but, it may also be just what we need to deliver us to eternal joy.
Reflect: What are the times in my life when I have suffered the most? What/who was it that helped me through? What was it that was so hard for me to change and/or accept that time of suffering? How might I be able to use that experience to help others?
Pray: Lord of our sorrow, help us to know that we are not alone in our suffering. Help us to remember that you sent your Son to suffer just as we do, as an act of love for us. Help us to remember that while he suffered greatly, he was never alone; your Spirit was with Him, as it is with us now. Come, Holy Spirit of Love and Joy! Lead my life towards others who may benefit from my suffering, and guide my heart to comfort them in the way they need most. Amen