The Master Faster
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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 will 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 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.
When Jesus was fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, there were no reporters covering the event. We know that the devil, the tempter, made an unfriendly visit. We know that the angels came after that to minister to Jesus. Otherwise, we can expect that Jesus was alone. This brings to mind some questions to ask. When did His desert experience become known to His disciples? What did He do all day out there in the desert?
We know that the Lord Jesus was constantly teaching His disciples. They asked Him to teach them to pray, for example. That is a more compelling topic for new disciples than fasting might be. It is likely, though, that Jesus spoke to them about fasting, about its meaning and its value. In this context it is reasonable to think that He described for them His own “Lent” experience from the days when He was in immediate preparation for His public ministry. In His teaching about fasting and about temptation, Jesus spoke as one like us (in all things except sin) — He experienced real temptation as a free man, like we do. The decisive victory He won over the master tempter’s efforts would have been inspiring for His disciples to hear — as it should be for us, as well.
As busy people, we might find ways to keep our minds off the snacks (particularly the ones we’ve just decided to give up for Lent) by keeping our focus on other things and avoiding the danger zones where they lurk … the Krispy Kreme Zone, for example. Jesus, alone in the desert, would seem to have lots of time on His hands with no way to fill it. People who go on retreat for the first time can find it difficult to know what to do with extra free time. What was Jesus doing all day? He was assuredly not preparing fast-permitted foods. Jesus’ entire life among us was one of total fidelity to the mission His Father gave Him. He was perfectly obedient.
In His desert days, He was on the verge of “going public” with the Good News. We know that the best of the Good News is the fact that He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for us, for our salvation. In reality, every moment of Jesus’ life was accomplishing His saving mission. In His “free time” in the desert, Jesus was about His Father’s work, He was praying, praising, making petitions on our behalf, and, of course, accomplishing His purpose here — loving unconditionally. These things are realities that kept our Lord busy. These things nourished Him and animated Him in a way that food could not. Perhaps we have experienced something similar by making devout and worthy Holy Communions? The Bread of Life builds up our lives of grace in a way that helps us master our desires for the many things of this world that do not last.
During Jesus’ days in the desert, He felt the pangs of hunger like we do, even more so. Yet, we know that He was finding strength and a better kind of nourishment. The tempter was right to say that Jesus could make the stones become loaves of bread (the best bread ever, with butter melting all over it). The Master at fasting, however, diminishes the edge of the need He felt for food by expressing the reality that He was being nourished in another and better way. We are reminded of His words (which we will hear in two weeks): "I have food to eat of which you do not know” and "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4). He said this to His disciples who were concerned that He was not eating. We can imagine that He appeared strong and able, fit and nourished, when He taught them about His way of living, the way of complete trust and obedience to the work His Father sent Him to do.
The tempter came to Jesus at the end of His 40 days and 40 nights when “he was hungry,” the text says. Of course He was. Is it possible that the tempter came at the wrong time? Jesus was physically hungry. He was also at the end of an intense time of prayer during which He was constantly nourished in mind, heart and soul, by the living words that came “forth from the mouth of God.”
We should take heart in the early days of our Lenten journey. The nourishment we really need is ready for us in abundance when we willingly leave aside the many things that fill us up but do not fulfill us. The tempter is vanquished when we know this truth and imitate the example of Jesus’ “Lent.”
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