Encounter real Jesus this Lent
A reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, Year A
by Danielle Bean
Is Jesus real to you?
We might respond to this question reflexively. Of course Jesus is real to me! I’m a Christian! But is he really
real to you? Do you think of Jesus as a real human being? Because that’s what he is.
Because Jesus is divinely perfect, we might find ourselves thinking of him more as a plaster statue than a living, breathing human being. We might put Jesus on a pedestal in church sometimes, and keep him a safe distance away from our everyday lives. Or we might relegate him to the pages of the Bible where he becomes only a storybook character from long ago, with little relevance or connection to our modern lives.
It can be tempting to think of Jesus as somehow separate from us humans. Jesus is God made man, after all. That’s pretty significant. But we believe that Jesus is fully God and
fully human. That means that in the person of Jesus, God became a real man, a real person that we can relate to – a person who loves us and wants only to be loved by us in return.
Appropriately for the first Sunday of Lent, this Sunday’s Gospel underscores the reality of Jesus’ humanity for us all. This week, in the Gospel of Mark, we read that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1).
I am always a little bit surprised when I read the words of this passage. What’s this now? Jesus was tempted by the devil? How could God himself be tempted by the devil?
It’s a shocking idea, but an encouraging one, too. If Jesus experienced human struggles and weakness so completely that he even experienced temptation, he knows all about my human struggles and weakness too. And he is not discouraged by them. He calls me to holiness anyway.
At the start of Lent each year, I make big plans. This is the year, I tell myself, that I will accomplish all of my spiritual goals. I will be a prayer warrior, I will overcome all of my bad habits, and then I’ll lose 10 pounds, just for good measure. But then, inevitably, life happens. I miss a day of my new habit, perhaps, and then, before I know it, I have fallen back into my old ways, forgetting all about those lofty Lenten goals. In the best of years, I get back up after failing and try again. In the worst of years, I throw it all away and slink my way toward Easter.
Do you do this, too? It is human to fall short of our goals. It is human to make the perfect the enemy of the good sometimes, too. If we can’t achieve perfection, then why bother?
Well, we should bother because Jesus bothered. He went first. Jesus knew the reality of human weakness and temptation, but he persevered anyway, because human though he was, he knew what he was called to do.
“He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry,” we read in the Gospel. And yet, in spite of his hunger, he holds steady against the temptations of the devil. The devil, for his part, tempts Jesus with bread, wealth, and power. Each time, Jesus rejects the false promises of Satan and fights him off with the power of the Word of God.
In the next forty days, we will get hungry. We will grow weak, and we will be tempted to give up the good things God calls us to. In those moments, let us recall the reality of the humanity of Jesus. Let us reflect on the fact that Jesus, in spite of knowing our human frailty, calls us to great things anyway. Let’s meet Jesus – a man with real hands that worked, a real voice that taught, and a real body that grew hungry and tired – inside of our weakness. Let us draw strength from his example and keep his words close to our hearts: “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve’” (Mt 4:11).
The readings for the First Sunday of Lent, Year A, are
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Danielle Bean is the brand manager of CatholicMom.com, an author, and a speaker. Her newest book is Giving Thanks and Letting Go: Reflections on the Gift of Motherhood.