On the First Sunday in Lent, the Gospel reading appointed is the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus has an amazing spiritual experience where the heavens open up as he is Baptized by John. God says in an audible voice, “This is my beloved Son.” Who of us would not thrive on that moment for years to come?! Yet, immediately afterwards, Jesus goes (or as some translations say, was driven) into the wilderness. This is not the Colorado forested wilderness, the Sierra Club calendar photos kind of wilderness. The wilderness in Judea is a barren, bleak, rocky, desolate, monochromatic in color, dry, inhospitable desert kind of wilderness. It is not a refreshing place but a place where demons dwell.
While in that hard place, Jesus goes forty days and forty nights without eating and in classic Biblical understatement, he is described as” hungry” at the end of it. But here is where we moderns often run off the rails with this story. We assume that that is when Satan shows up to “kick Jesus while he is down.” In reality, Jesus is at his strongest spiritually. With that kind of intense fasting and prayer behind him, He can truly look Satan in the face and say “no!” The truth is, we are at our strongest after fasting from a spiritual perspective; we gain spiritual strength in a fast even as our bodies weaken some.
I believe this is why regular fasting has fallen out of favor in the Church. We have allowed ourselves to believe the lies of Satan that says, “God doesn’t expect you to be obedient and follow Him on an empty stomach, does he?” We have allowed ourselves to buy the lie that in feeding ourselves excessively, we will drown the demons that live inside of us in the forms of rage, greed, lust, pride and the whole legion host of attitudes that keep us from loving God and loving our neighbor. Satan fears a revival in regular fasting among those who claim Christ. He would prefer that we continue to tamp down ugly emotions with food and entertainment and other distractions so as not to really tackle those issues in our lives.
What temptations are you facing today? Have you considered a fast to help you overcome them? Realize that as you quit using food to medicate your real thoughts and feelings, the “dragon” might come roaring out of its lair. That can be a scary thing but it is only when we look the evil inside of us in the eye and say “NO” to it, that we can begin to rid ourselves of those sins that dwell deep within.
And Jesus will be with us as we do this. He will help us overcome, as He overcame.