Christian faith is born of revelation and hope: the revelation of God who was incarnate among men, and the hope that He will return to bring us definitive justice and peace. It is not certain, however, to suggest that the Church should live in the light of an enchanted and apparently utopian future, where the Messiah will satisfy all the whims and desires of the hearts of the elect.
The mission given by Christ to his disciples suggests direct engagement and commitment to the building of the Kingdom, and this process still seems to be far from that definitive justice and peace that we all, one day, are longing to achieve. It is necessary to be aware of the rocky, arid and thorny path that lies ahead of us, and it is in order to enter into the lucidity of this reality that the liturgy of the Church introduces us to the Lenten period.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus responds to Satan as he is tempted, “One does not live by bread alone” (Lk 4:4), to which Matthew adds, “but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). It is interesting to note that Jesus is tempted to do something that is not necessarily morally wrong. In verse 2, Luke says that “he was hungry. Indeed, it is natural, for the one who is hunger, to look for food.
In fact, Jesus’ refusal is not related to the simple act of eating, but to Satan’s real intentions, for in the following verses, he says, “I will give you all this power and all its glory… Therefore, if you prostrate yourself before me in worship, all this will be yours. (Lk 4:6-7) What Jesus denies is not the food itself, but the offering of an easy life and worldly glory. His purpose is another one, and the logic of walking towards this end is different from the typical logic of this world. Pain does not always imply suffering. Privation does not always mean emptiness. Jesus felt hungry but found satiation in the Word, and his experience of being tempted for forty days in the desert relates directly to the Hebrew people as they left Egypt.
It is a portrait of such people that the first reading presents us. The book of Deuteronomy (from the Greek deuteros + nomos = the second law) works as a revision of the Law given at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew people are about to enter the Promised Land, but it is necessary to review what God gave them as a commandment while they were in the wilderness, for the generations are passing away, but the Word remains the same. They are no longer deprived of the dryness of the desert because they say that “God led us to this place and gave us this land, where milk and honey flow” (Deut 26:9). But God invites them to always remember the humiliating experience of Egypt: “My father was a wandering Aramaic, who descended into Egypt with a handful of people and lived there as a stranger. The Egyptians mistreated and oppressed us, imposing hard bondage on us” (Deut 26:5-6).
Memory (of the Hebrew Zikaron) is an important element in the history of the Hebrews, because it brings us the lucid information of who we are, beginning with the consciousness of where we came from. To remember the experience of slavery in Egypt is a divine commandment, also for us in a spiritual and liturgical sense. Far from expressing pure resentment, this memory, in fact, reminds the people of God that, although they are in a land “where milk and honey flow,” it is the providence and mercy of God that has freed them from slavery.
This is why the Church, following in the footsteps and tradition of Israel, in the liturgy, especially remembers our own experience of pain and aridity. It is not a time of sadness, but of conscience and contemplation. It is necessary to revisit Egypt to know what we have been saved from. It is necessary to walk through the desert to reach the promised land.
In any case, this journey is not walked alone. It is God himself who accompanies us. The Psalm tells us who our strength is, “In my sorrows, O Lord, remain close to me! You are my refuge and protection, you are my God, in whom I trust completely” (Ps 90). As Jesus himself teaches us in the Gospel, it is the Word that will give us strength and sustain us in the face of weakness. But for this, it is necessary to contemplate it, study it and put it into practice, as Paul said in the second reading, “The word is close to you, in your mouth and in your heart. It is by believing in the heart that righteousness is achieved, and it is by confessing faith with the mouth that salvation is obtained. (Rom 10:8-10).