Jump Back, Satan: The Spiritual Tune-Up of Lent

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Lent is Like a Necessary Tune-Up

Lent gets my attention. It is kind of a tune-up, and just like my car, I require this kind of fine-tuning at least once a year. Spanish reveals the very worthwhile pun of “auto examinación,” (“auto” referring to the self) or “self-examination,” and signals the forty days of Lent. It turns out that the warning lights on my spiritual dashboard are nagging at me. Now, to be sure, forty days is a long stint in the garage, but my spiritual jalopy can use the attention!

Tune-up particulars

Another way to consider Lent is as a time of ramped-up spiritual formation—we are exposed to many forces of malformation for much of the year, after all. So, our yearly examination of conscience encourages “re-formation,” which is carried out largely through fasting, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. Practiced purposefully, these aid with essential adjustments.

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The Book of Common Prayer refines the expectation: “Fasting, in addition to reduced consumption, normally also includes prayer, self-examination, and acts of mercy” (BCP 2019, p. 689). 

All of this need not be practiced as a way of satisfying perfunctory religious demands but rather should reveal greater objectives. Intentionality is key. For example, if I give up what I eat in excess, I could contribute this amount to one who is truly hungry. In this way, I connect to the larger issue of human empathy.

Forty Days

Returning to our forty-days diagnostic, the best possible model that demonstrates the meaning of Lent and fasting is the forty days of testing in the desert, where the Son of God refuses the lies and fantasies of Satan. Behind these forty days, there is, in turn, a series of Old Testament allusions that throw light on the matter. Noteworthy examples include the forty days Moses spent on the mountain once he received the tablets of the Law and Elijah’s escape from Ahab to the mountain of God as he sought to renew the Covenant for Israel’s faithful remnant. The analogical connection between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (the giver of the New Covenant Law of Love) is particularly compelling.

One more example of Old Testament background will suffice to illustrate the importance of the number forty. It occurs when the children of Israel circulate about in the wilderness for forty years before they obtain divine clearance to enter the promised land. Unfortunately, the Israelites barely learned in forty years what Jesus demonstrated in forty days. Jesus’s example in this context teaches the importance of developing an “attitude of the fast,” which provides weapons against the devil and equips us with a clear vision and the ability to combat the strategies of the tempter effectively. We are, after all, carried to this place by the Spirit and ministered to by angels. From there, it is apparent that the spiritual grit and grace of the Lenten fast serves, as Saint Augustine noted, to cleanse the soul, elevate the mind, subject one’s flesh to the Spirit, and render the heart contrite and humble (“Sermon, On Prayer and Fasting” no. 72).

Road-Tested in the Wilderness

During Jesus’s forty-day ordeal in the wilderness, the first temptation, or test, that we find in Matthew chapter four is the challenge to turn stones into bread. In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen reveals that this temptation for a leader—whether at home, in church, in the community, or at work—is to be “relevant,” to be more useful, the one who produces more, the self-sufficient transformer of stones. But Christ exposes the emptiness of all that, calling us to be genuine, present to our neighbor, and resist the mirage of popularity. On my childhood farm, I remember how we had to remove the bushes, stumps, and rocks from a new field before we would be able to enjoy a substantial crop. Stones were “turned into bread,” metaphorically speaking, by dint of hard work and vision, not by magic; this process, in turn, becomes a figure of the costly Bread of Life itself.

Later, the devil suggests that Jesus throw himself off the temple in a glorious demonstration of the spectacular, which for me raises the question: Do I seek preeminence in the current “atmospheric river” of showbiz spirituality, or do I reject competition and simply serve with love? 

But the devil does not throw in the towel quite so easily, and while Jesus continues to push him back, the evil one offers the third and most seductive and inebriating of temptations, the abuse of power: 

Peter’s Faux Pas

The attraction to abuse of power manifests itself, in what is perhaps its strongest allure, in the words of Saint Peter during the early days of his discipleship: Immediately after Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Master begins explaining to the disciples all that he will suffer. Peter reacts programmatically, and we read that,

…Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Matthew 16:22-23)

Unwittingly, Peter had become a spokesperson for the other side. He did not understand that the road to the Kingdom of God consists in the complete opposite of what he supposed. Jesus then firmly tells Peter to back up and stop being used; he explains to him and the disciples the way of the Kingdom: 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

The Pull of the Shortcut

At that moment, Peter could not conceive of the power of the “kingdom in reverse” that Jesus represented. Nevertheless, Christ still calls us to counter Satan and learn that the weak and the powerless are the ones who are our best teachers; unlearning acquisitiveness and self-aggrandizement is slow, grinding work indeed. It would appear that loving authentically is more difficult than walking the shortcut of high-handedness; nevertheless, Jesus seems determined to model and teach us this cross-shaped lesson. 

How to Reach the Prickly Pears

Even the natural world teaches that shortcuts rarely work well—to get to where the sweet, ripe, prickly pears are, it is necessary to traverse the path of spiny cacti. Lent is, then, an opportunity to get closer to God, calling a halt to our egocentrism and our other preferred “- isms,”—in a word, our easy paths that avoid the Cross. In this forty-day way, armed with new growth, we will confront an uncertain world with courage and hope. After all, Lent points us towards the great event of our salvation, Resurrection Day!


This article is adapted from Chapter 7a of Anglicanismo: A Personal Introduction to How We Practice the Historic Christian Faith. The dual-language book is published by Anglican House Publishers.


Image by matsou for GettyImages, courtesy of Canva.

Author

Galen Yorba-Gray

Father Galen Yorba-Gray serves at All Saints, Everett, WA, as Associate Priest, and holds a PhD in Spanish Language and Literature. He also the author of Anglicanismo: A Personal Introduction to How We Practice the Historic Christian Faith (Una Introducción Personal a Cómo Practicamos el Cristianismo Histórico). Padre Galen is currently acting as editor for the Spanish Book of Common Prayer.

View more from Galen Yorba-Gray

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