As we discussed on this week’s podcast, it’s time for us to renew our annual Lenten journey into the desert. As we head into the desert, though, it’s worth thinking about who we’re following there, and what brought him there.
Obviously, the who is Jesus. I doubt I’m delivering any breaking news here, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that the entire purpose of the Lenten season is to follow him, not only to the desert, but through it. The journey is a preparation for the Cross, and ultimately for the Resurrection. Jesus went into the desert after his baptism and spent 40 days there in preparation for his public ministry. It was a time for Jesus to be with his Father, away from all other distractions. Even as, in the midst of his humanity, Jesus endured the hunger, thirst, and worldly discomforts the desert brought, it was an encounter for Jesus and the Father, not to be weakened, but strengthened. The road was bound to be difficult, so the starting point had to be secured.
Similarly, as we enter into this time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we need to remember that those are all for a purpose. Don’t get me wrong, those are all good things in and of themselves. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are outstanding means, but miserable as an end in themselves. We fast, not because the blessings of God’s creation are a threat to our salvation, but because we need to make sure our hearts are focused not on the gift, but on the giver. We pray, not because God needs to hear our voice, or because we hope to change God’s mind, but because our conversations with God draw us closer to him. We give alms to the poor, not because we are generous, but because we recognize that God’s generosity to us is an invitation to join him in the giving.
All of this to say that, whatever practices you lean into on your desert journey this year, don’t put the cart before the horse. We need to make sure that everything we do is directed not to the desert, but through the desert and to Jesus Christ.