Today’s gospel reading from the USCCB is Matthew 4:1-11
“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply,
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city,
and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus answered him,
“Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him,
“Get away, Satan!
It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.”
Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness recalls the forty years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness. During that time the Israelites had to completely depend on God to sustain them from day to day. It was a trying time for the people, but it was also a time that brought the Israelites to seek God more fully, and to depend on His providence.
Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we too are often wandering in the deserts of our lives. We are hungry and ragged and under attack from vipers. It can feel like we are so far away from God, it can seem like no matter how far we travel, or no matter where we go, we are never any closer to finding a way back to God. It can be as though we are banished and forgotten.
However, in all that estrangement, somehow, strangely, we can find our path to God more clearly. We can find that path because Jesus Christ first walked that path for us. By following the path of the Israelites in the wilderness, Jesus showed us that there is sanctification to be found in the wild. He wandered like they wandered. He was tempted like they were tempted. He depended on God like they depended on God, and in all his trials He imbued holiness into the suffering. He took the estrangement of the human race and remade it into a means of reconciliation. He took a path that led away from God, and made it run backward, toward God. He brought God into the most godforsaken parts of human life.
When we are wandering there is solace in the knowledge that Jesus wandered here first.