Lent is a time for personal reflection. Every Wednesday throughout Lent we will post a reflection that we hope will help with your own Lenten journey.
The tradition of Lenten self-discipline comes mainly from the Gospel accounts of the temptation of Jesus. This Sunday, we hear Luke’s version of that familiar story (Luke 4:1-13). Before Jesus begins his public ministry, he makes a personal, 40-day retreat into the desert. There the devil tempts him with power, personal glory and material comfort. He passes the test and, strengthened by the ordeal, emerges to begin his path to Calvary.
We are usually content to take the lesson of the story at face value. Life is a struggle between good and evil, and it is only through personal discipline that we have the strength to choose the good. Jesus also faced the greatest temptations. He overcame those temptations through fasting and prayer and, therefore, so should we.
Fair enough. But why did Jesus feel the need for personal discipline? What did he gain by resisting the tempter? And why, if he knew he would be tempted, would he go into the desert in the first place?
The answer is that he did it not for himself but for others. The discipline he gained was not for the sake of personal accomplishment but so he could have more to give those he desired to serve. In resisting the devil, he resisted those things that he knew could divert him from the path of loving service.
Unlike the experience of Jesus in the desert, which drew him outside of himself and toward others, our little Lenten sacrifices sometimes have the opposite effect. We take pride in our personal accomplishments, as if the mastery of will is the ultimate goal. But when personal success becomes the focus of Lent, we miss the point.
Yes, we do personally benefit from our Lenten disciplines, and that is good. But the best and most lasting benefit is that we also grow in solidarity with others, especially the poor and those on the margins of society. It was love for these that drove Jesus into the desert in the first place, and it is the same love to which his followers are still called.