Have you ever wondered when does a person feel most vulnerable or even helpless? Often it is when we are not in control of the outcome of the situation that we find ourselves in. For most people, the feeling of not being in control can be nerve-wracking because the outcome can go any direction and worse still if it goes the direction we least expect. Many of us lose sleep and become irritable when we are not able to control the outcome of a future event – we fear something terrible will happen.
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel that we hear is that of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Jesus had just been baptised in the Jordan by John the Baptist and we know that the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are told that Jesus left Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and it was here that He was going to be tempted.
The temptation of Jesus takes place in three places: the wilderness, on a high mountain, and on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem. Though each of the temptations seems different, in each instance Jesus was being challenged to prove He is the Son of God. On all three occasions, Jesus proves His allegiance to God and none other.
What the account of the temptation reminds us is that from the very moment Jesus made His public appearance when He presented Himself to John the Baptist at the river Jordan, His whole ministry was going to be in accordance to the will of His Heavenly Father – God was going to be in control from the beginning till the end. In that sense, even when Jesus was facing the ultimate sacrifice on the cross, He neither felt vulnerable nor helpless because Jesus knew that it was His Father in Heaven who was in control.
Have you ever noticed that our prayer intensifies when we have less control of the outcome? We often rely on our own abilities, strengths, and problem-solving skills to produce the outcome we desire. There is no doubt that these are “gifts” from God but do we realise that we only turn to God with greater intent when our hold on a particular situation becomes wobbly?
In many ways, the temptations of Jesus are the same temptations that many of us face in our daily lives – the need to be in control. Though it would have been easy for Jesus to turn the stones into bread, by declining, He wanted to demonstrate His total dependence on the Father from the start and that His ministry is not His own but to accomplish the mission that the Father had sent Him to do.
The journey of Lent is a journey in learning to let God be in control, learning to be vulnerable ourselves. The world we live in sometimes inclines us to think that we are in control of everything. With the rapid advancements in technology, it is so easy to fall into the temptation that we are in control. There are times when we even want to control God and tell Him what He should be doing. That is why Jesus makes it crystal clear at the very first temptation that ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matt 4:4). Being vulnerable before God is to be able to open up our souls to God and to believe that God is in control, in good times and in bad. When we think we are in control, the tendency is to not be honest about our sins, emotions, thoughts, motives and desires.
Being vulnerable before God requires a great deal of humility and trust because we need to confront the “demons” within each of us. Jesus may have been tempted to prove that He is the Son of God but today we are being tempted to think we are in control and don’t need God (except when we lose control). This Lent let us humbly acknowledge that perhaps God doesn’t ask for anything more from us than just to come closer to Him, with our weaknesses and failings and allow Him to be in control. For it is only His grace that can make us be more like Him.
1st Sunday of Lent (6 Mar 2022)