Very often, we choose to see the Holy Spirit only as acting in exceptionally outstanding and powerful ways in our lives. Thus, for many of us, it is not uncommon to imagine the Holy Spirit as an extraordinary and supernatural force continually transforming lives and bringing numerous conversions.
While this perspective is correct, sometimes we only focus on the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit and what they can do for us. However, today, the first Sunday of Lent, Luke 4:01 provides a somewhat different aspect of the operation of the Holy Spirit.
He states that: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness”. It is obvious that the wilderness figures a critical juncture in the life and ministry of Jesus. Although he was surrounded by evil, the mighty power and the constant working of the Holy Spirit were always very evident. If the Holy Spirit led Jesus in the wilderness there must be great merit in that place.
Wilderness in the Old Testament denotes wandering in the desert, searching for the promised land and encountering Almighty God. The wilderness is not a place that is regularly cultivated like the fields and gardens of ordinary civilised districts.
It is also looked upon as the abode of wild beasts— lions, Sirach 13:23; wild asses, Job 24:5; and jackals, Malachi 1:03. It is not fertilised by streams of water, but by some unusual springs, Genesis 16:7. It also refers to a vast field where wild animals live and some domestic animals could possibly graze and it is in this wilderness that the Holy Spirit led Jesus, the Son of God.
However, Isaiah 35:1–2 states that the land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice: “Let the desert and the dry lands be glad, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom; like the asphodel, let it burst into flower, let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; then they will see the glory of God, the splendour of our God”.
It is interesting to note that although the wilderness is a place of intense hardship and utter isolation, Elijah clearly heard the voice of God. Although it is a place where food and water are scarce and one is constantly faced with tremendous danger Hagar experienced divine deliverance. In a similar manner, Moses encountered God through the experience of the burning bush on Mt Sinai.
Going in the wilderness could sometimes entail leaving the past behind and looking for a deeper meaning in life and this is what Lent affords us. When we allow the Holy Spirit to take us in the wilderness it leads us to profound transformation and ultimate conversion.
Many times, the Holy Spirit moves us to the wilderness so, like Jesus, we could experience the powerful hand of Almighty God especially in our moments of anguish and crisis.
Wilderness experience can be an apt moment for radical conversion because of the quiet and solitude and also because there is ample room for God to speak and minister to us.
According to sacred Scripture, it would seem that God always takes advantage of these situations, transforming us and drawing us into a deeper and lasting relationship with Him and this is accomplished many times through the wilderness experience.
Thus, the wilderness is a place where we can decide if we want to continue to follow and totally trust in Jesus, even when situations appear to be dire and seemingly impossible.
Ultimately, this means that suffering certainly has a purpose. Moreover, it sometimes forms an integral part of life. Hence, a life in which there appears to be nothing but suffering can have the deepest meaning of all. Thus, trying to alleviate or sometimes avoid pain and suffering may not always be the best option.
Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God, many times we do not accept suffering and pain as we ought to, because we often try to escape it in our daily lives. Today, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Lent, Luke reminds us that we need to be very cognisant that the wilderness experience forms an essential part of our lives.
In total submission to the will of God, we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us in the wilderness. Although we are afraid and terrified, we firmly believe that God will always look after us as he did with His son, Jesus Christ.
We ask you Father, to continue to sustain and support us in the wilderness so we can be better disciples working for the kingdom of God. With cheerful hearts and renewed spirits, we can now sing, with a greater meaning and understanding the song: “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back”.
By Fr Gabriel Julien