In Lent, we follow Jesus into those desolate landscapes of temptation, doubt, fear, and isolation. This week’s text is Matthew 4:1-11, the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
This text is well-known, often dramatized, and full of food for reflection. I find in this passage comfort and encouragement for the Lenten journey. Jesus himself suffered hunger, was tempted, and resisted the tempter. This is our Lord and Rabbi in our Lenten journey.
On Monday I reflected on Frodo and Sam’s terrible journey to Mordor, as an image of what Jesus encountered in that wilderness of temptation. I am also reading Gerard Manley Hopkins this Lent, specifically his “Terrible Sonnets.” As I said last week, these “Terrible Sonnets” poetically and emotionally explore landscapes of desolation.
TERRIBLE SONNET II: “I Wake and Feel,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I WAKE AND FEEL the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.
Hopkins is speaking to himself in the middle of the night, as the Psalmist often does.
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hopkins, overwhelmed with the spiritual wilderness he wanders, cries out. “I am gall, I am heartburn.” He sighs and cries, and God is not listening. “And my lament / Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away.” Again, he echoes the Psalmist:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
And just like Matthew’s gospel, Hopkins discovers us all in the wilderness, almost laments that we are there with him. “I see / The lost are like this, and their scourge to be / As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.” We are all, whether we acknowledge it or not, wandering in a wilderness of temptation and isolation, lost, our own “scourges.” And it is into this wilderness that Jesus goes, led by the Spirit, for us, to lead us out.
Thanks be to you, O Christ.
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