Sunday, the First of Lent

“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert (ἔρημον, eremon) to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).”
     Israel knew the importance of the ἔρημος (eremos). Entrance into the Promised Land necessitated a journey through a most hostile terrain that tested their resolve with every step onto and into the burning hot sand. Memories of tyranny and of oppression seemed distant and miniscule compared with the challenge posed by the present struggle to live in the hostile desert environment. There were even points along the way when the people wanted to return to Egypt. Fondly, they remembered a culinary delight of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (see Numbers 11:5). One could hardly blame them for wanting a little spice, variety and even garlic for their new, seemingly bland diet of manna and quail. Yet their initial experience in the desert did something that they never thought possible: slavery in Egypt actually looked good compared to the present testing. What happened to cause such a perception shift?
    Rabbi Abraham Heschel has remarked often that Israel’s great sin in the desert was not idolatry but rather ‘forgetting the great and mighty deeds of God.’ This forgetfulness is not a matter of misplacing the keys or of drawing a blank on a test. Biblical forgetfulness is a ‘disconnect’ an ‘un-membering of oneself from the source of life.’ This is why the biblical and liturgical action of memory/remembrance is important. Zakar (Hebrew) and anamnesis (Greek) are about memory, but an experience of memory that goes beyond mere intellectual recall. Biblical memory is about ‘being re-membered to the source of life,’ it is about being ‘re-joined to the body that provides the essentials for living.’
     This is why Jesus’ actions in the ἔρημος are important for us at the beginning of a season that is first and foremost about the Elect’s intense preparation for Baptism. Among the many dimensions of the Initiation Experience, humanity is ‘joined to,’ ‘re-membered in a wholly new and creative manner to the One Who is the source of all life.’ At no time in the desert does Jesus glamorize or romanticize His pre-desert life. In the midst of testings that equipped Him to proclaim the Father’s Kingdom in all of its richness and power, Jesus is the One Who continuously remembered His source of life. He experienced - and calls us to experience as well - that authentic living is found not in what we consider essential, important or necessary. Genuine living is lived in relationship with the One we call upon as “Our Father.”

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