The Gospel today tells us that Jesus went into the desert right after his baptism to fast and pray for 40 days and nights, and there he was tempted by the devil. What is the significance of Jesus spending 40 days and nights of prayer and fasting in the desert?
Throughout Scripture, the figure 40 generally signifies a period of testing and preparation that concludes with a glorious ending. For instance, it rained for 40 days and nights during the time of Noah. As we heard in our first reading today, at the end of those 40 days, God saved the family of Noah and made a covenant with him that he would never again destroy the world with flood. Similarly, when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he brought them into the wilderness of Sinai. Moses went to the mountain of the Lord at Sinai and stayed there in prayer and fasting for 40 days (Exodus 24:18). At the end of the 40 days, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to guide the people. Another example is that of the prophet Elijah; after Elijah had confronted idolatry in the land of Israel and destroyed the prophets of Baal, he fled into the wilderness and journeyed for 40 days through the desert and mountains, at the end of which, he was lifted up in a chariot and whirl-winded into heaven (1 Kings 19:8).
As we begin our 40 days of the Season of Lent, we are invited, like Jesus and the prophets, to go into a period of prayer and discernment. We do not have to physically go to the desert to pray, but we can all create a desert space in our overcrowded lives. We can set aside a place and time to be alone daily with God, a time to distance ourselves from the many noises and voices around us, a time to pray, a time to hear God’s voice, a time to maintain self-discipline and purify ourselves so at the end of the Lenten Season we can experience a renewed spiritual life at Easter.BACK TO LIST