Out of the Pandemic Desert

“Humanity is being tested: Families are separated, communities are in havoc, lives are in turmoil because of the pandemic.”

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent, taken from the Gospel of Mark, speaks of the time when Christ, as he is about to start his ministry, is brought by the Spirit out into the desert. He remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

We now see the same Spirit, who gave life to Jesus in Mary and descended on Him during his baptism, now drives the Messiah into the desert to be tempted, surrounded by beasts for 40 days. The reading shows as an image of the Son of God, hungry and weak, having been exposed to the elements for 40 days, being tempted by Satan, who perhaps entertained the idea that Jesus could be at his weakest considering his condition. But the Gospel tells us that Jesus rebuked and refused to succumb to all the attempts by the evil one to seduce him into sinning. According to Catholic teaching Jesus came into the world and assumed the nature of man like us but sin.

Seeing Jesus tempted helps us understand our full humanity. God made Jesus undergo temptation, hunger, weakness in order for us to understand the pains, sufferings that we undergo daily in our lives. In the end, Jesus teaches us how to triumph over the chaos and obstacles of the “wilderness” and the “beasts” of the world. He teaches us that in times of great distress, and when we teeter on the verge of despair, we can be triumphant if we cling to God who abides by us in these painful situations just as Jesus clung to his Father during his 40-day sojourn in the desert. God was on his side all throughout that is why Jesus emerged from the desert in proclamation.

Humanity is right now in the midst of a desolate wilderness because of the pandemic. Humanity is at its weakest state, beset with loneliness, fear, insecurities and uncertainties. In times like this, we either stay trapped inside a spiritual hole or emerge triumphant in proclamation. Now, considering the circumstances we are in, it may be a most opportune time for the Tempter to unleash his destructive wiles and traps.

Pope Francis discusses the meaning of this Gospel passage: “The tempter seeks to divert Jesus from the Father’s plan, that is, from the way of sacrifice, of the love that offers itself in expiation, to make him take an easier path, one of success and power. The duel between Jesus and Satan takes place through strong quotations from Sacred Scripture. The devil, in fact, to divert Jesus from the way of the cross, sets before him false messianic hopes: economic well-being, indicated by the ability to turn stones into bread; a dramatic and miraculous style, with the idea of throwing himself down from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem and being saved by angels; and lastly, a shortcut to power and dominion, in exchange for an act of adoration to Satan. These are the three groups of temptations: and we, too, know them well!”

But in the end, according to the Holy Father, Jesus decisively rejects all these temptations and reiterates his firm resolve to follow the path set by the Father, without any kind of compromise with sin or worldly logic.

All our lives we will be presented with occasions that will cause us to fall. But by following the lessons we draw from Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, a foolproof way to defeat temptation, which is, not to argue with Satan, and seek defense from the Word of God! And this will save us.

According to Pope Francis, this gives us the strength, and sustains us in the struggle against a worldly mind-set that would lower man to the level of his primitive needs, causing him to lose hunger for what is true, good and beautiful, the hunger for God and for his love. Jesus’ absolute fidelity to the Father’s plan of love will lead him after about three years to the final reckoning with the “prince of this world,” at the hour of his Passion and Cross, and Jesus will have his final victory, the victory of love!

There have been only few periods in history when humanity was tested collectively and singularly, as individuals. Families are separated, communities are in havoc, lives are in turmoil because of the pandemic. But the Gospel tells us there is hope if we do not allow ourselves to be diverted and distracted from the Plan of God and remain focused on His Word; this in the end is what will save us.

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