A reflection for the first Sunday of Lent
By Rev. Julia L. Styles
Lectionary reading for 2/26/2023: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7;Psalm 32;Romans 5:12-19;Matthew 4:1-11
Selected passage: Matthew 4:1-11
Matthew 4:1-11 New International Version
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
After Jesus’ baptism, and before the start to his public ministry, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. I believe that God sent Jesus to the wilderness, because God wanted Jesus to spend time in God’s presence, without distraction. I believe the wilderness is always a place where God chooses to meet with God’s beloveds. In this situation, God wants Jesus to know that he can rely on his Holy Parent for everything he needs. After 40 days of solitude in the desert, Jesus may have felt connected to the Spirit but he is also hungry. The devil uses this circumstance to tempt Jesus to change his current situation.
Have you been in situations where you wished the circumstances were different? Every single day I wish life was easier or more pleasant: I wish my children obeyed me, I wish people were less selfish, I wish traffic wasn’t so bad, I wish the weather was more cooperative. I wish I never had to experience suffering or pain.
In the midst of Jesus’ suffering, the devil tempts Jesus with the desires of the heart:
You are hungry–say the word and you will be fed.
You are vulnerable–dare to be invincible and it will be so.
You are lonely and afraid–the whole world will bow at your feet.
The devil is saying, Where is God in your suffering? Turn to me instead.
Jesus is aware of his hunger and exhaustion in the wilderness, yet, over and over again, Jesus turns from temptation and towards God.
“I let go of my desire for security and survival.” God‘s got me.
“I let go of my desire for power and control.” God’s in control.
“I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.” I am God’s beloved.
“I embrace this moment as it is.” God is here.
Most days, the desire for control, security and affection, or the desire to change our current circumstances, will tempt us to turn our attention away from God and take a situation into our own hands. In Matthew 4, we see Jesus do the opposite, instead of turning away from God and relying on himself, he leans on the character of God to see him through his temptation. And what happens? God sends angels to tend to him.
Lent is a time in the liturgical calendar when Christians symbolically enter the wilderness and fast for 40 days. Just as the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, the Spirit leads us to let go of distractions and false-comforts, so that we can face the things that tempt us, and experience the God who tends to us when we are vulnerable.
Since last Lent, one way I have entered the wilderness, per se, is to listen to my body and emotions rather than drowning them out with distraction. I find that when I welcome my emotions, especially negative ones, they lose the power they have over me, and I can recognize the temptations behind the emotions. I do this through a practice called the Welcoming Prayer. The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life. The purpose of the Welcoming Prayer is to deepen our relationship with God through consenting in the ordinary activities of our day.
The process of the welcoming prayer looks like this:
Feel and sink into what you are experiencing this moment in your body.
“WELCOME” what you are experiencing this moment in your body as an opportunity to consent to the Divine Indwelling.
Let go by saying “I let go of my desire for security, affection, control and embrace this moment as it is.”
This week, practice Welcoming Prayer in small moments of frustration, for instance when you are stuck in traffic or find yourself irritated with a coworker or family member. As you practice feeling negative emotions in small situations, you will become better at accepting them in bigger moments.
To learn more about Welcoming Prayer visit Contemplative Outreach.
In this moment, take a moment to check in with your body and your emotions.
Take a few deep breaths and recognize how you are feeling.
Welcome what you are feeling with the following prayer:
“Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it's for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God's action within. Amen.”
-The Welcome Prayer as written by Father Thomas Keating.
About the Author
Rev. Julia L. Styles is a Spiritual Director and ordained minister. She is passionate about women in ministry and believes the church needs to hear their voices—in the pulpit, on the page, in the classroom, and in positions of leadership both within and outside the church. To contact Julia for a free spiritual direction session visit www.spiritualdirectionwithjulia.com.
Julia resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Derek and two little ones, Jakob and Zoe.