When we read (in Matthew 4, Luke 4, and Mark 1) about Jesus in the wilderness, we see the resonances of the faith story in which the gospel is rooted. The first (Jewish) Christians hearing of Jesus’ forty days’ and nights’ solitary fasting in the wilderness would remember Israel wandering for forty years in the wilderness, Moses spending forty days and nights in solitude on Mount Sinai receiving the Law, Elijah encountering God in the wilderness after forty days’ and nights’ travel to Mount Horeb (“the Mount of God”, where Moses met with God in the burning bush), and the striking similarities between Elijah’s commission on Horeb with the sending-forth from Horeb of the people of God in Exodus 33. The connections are clear; the Gospels are written in such a way as will enable us to see and grasp them, helping us understand who Jesus is – the holy one of God.
The story of Elijah on Mount Horeb is especially helpful for us in imagining
the sense of solitude permeating Jesus’ experience. “I am the only one… ” Elijah says, and “they are trying to kill me… ” When he reached Beersheba in his flight, bread miraculously appeared amid the stones of the wilderness to sustain him. On Mount Horeb the still small voice of the Lord spoke to him.
Do you see the connections with Jesus (Matthew 4:1–11)? The scriptural precedents give his temptation power. He too is alone, facing the magnitude of his ministry – and he really is “the only one”. From infancy “they” have been trying to kill him. Like Elijah, he goes deep into the wilderness, and he too hears a little voice, suggesting that he too might find bread, and leading him too up a mountain to demonstrate divinity. Thank God for the shrewd, inspired, down-to-earth humility and integrity of Jesus, who even in the loneliness of the desert, facing the enormity of the task before him, sees through the tempter’s ruse and discerns that voice from the Father’s voice, knows who he himself is, does not need the ego-boost of being like Moses or Elijah, and has the integrity to stand firm.
When we are alone, when we are afraid, may we always reach out for you, O Lord; for you are always with us, mighty to save. May we hold fast to you our whole life long – this we ask in the holy name of Jesus, your faithful Son, our faithful Lord; Amen.