Bookmark and Share

The Spirit led Jesus into the desert

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Saturday 21 July 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Another fact belongs to the beginning of the messianic mission of Jesus, a very interesting and evocative one for us. The evangelists relate it and make it depend on the action of the Holy Spirit. That element is the desert experience. We read in Mark's Gospel: "At once (after the baptism) the Spirit drove him out into the desert" (Mk 1:12). In addition Matthew (4:1) and Luke (4:1) say that Jesus "was led by the Spirit into the desert." These texts offer us various indications which lead us to further study of the mystery of the intimate union of Jesus the Messiah with the Holy Spirit, from the beginning of the work of redemption.

First of all, we should make an observation about linguistics. The verbs which the evangelists used ("was led" in Matthew and Luke, "drove" in Mark) express an especially dynamic initiative on the Holy Spirit's part. That initiative is incorporated fully into the logic of Jesus' spiritual life and his psychology. From John he received a "baptism of repentance." Therefore he felt the need for a period of reflection and of austerity, even though he personally had no need for penance since he was "full of grace" and "holy" from the moment of his conception (cf. Lk 1:35; Jn 1:14), in preparation for his messianic mission.

His mission also demanded that he live in the midst of sinful people whom he was sent to evangelize and save (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 40, a. 1), in a struggle with demonic powers. Out of this the occasion arises for this pause in the desert "to be tempted by the devil." Therefore Jesus complied with the inner impulse and went where the Spirit willed.

2. The desert, besides being a place to meet God, is also a place of temptation and spiritual struggle. During their long desert pilgrimage the people of Israel had experienced many temptations and also yielded to them (cf. Ex 32:1-6; Num 14:1-4; 21:4-5; 25:1-3; Ps 78:17; 1 Cor 10:7-10). Jesus went into the desert almost as a way of linking himself with his people's historical experience. But unlike the behavior of Israel, at the beginning of his messianic activity Jesus was above all docile to the action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit demanded of him a definitive interior preparation for the carrying out of his mission, with the help of God's Word and by prayer.

In the spirit of biblical tradition and in line with Israelite psychology, the number forty could easily be connected with other ancient events, full of meaning for salvation history: the forty days of the flood (cf. Gen 7:4, 17); the forty days that Moses stayed on the mountain (cf. Ex 24:18); and the forty days of Elijah's journey during which he was refreshed by the miraculous bread which gave him new strength (cf. 1 Kgs 19:8). According to the evangelists, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Jesus adapted both to this stay in the desert and to the tradition and the almost sacred number (cf. Mt 4:1; Lk 4:1). He did the same thing during the period in which he appeared to the apostles after the resurrection and ascension into heaven (cf. Acts 1:3).

3. Jesus was thus led into the desert so that he could face the temptations of Satan and be able to have a freer and more intimate contact with the Father. Here we must also keep in mind that in the Gospels the desert is presented many times as the place where Satan dwells. One need only recall the passage in Luke on the "unclean spirit" which "when it goes out of someone, roams through arid regions searching for rest..." (Lk 11:24); and the other passage about the Gerasene demoniac who was "driven by the demon into deserted places" (Lk 8:29).

In the case of the temptations of Jesus, the impulse to go into the desert came from the Holy Spirit and signified above all the beginning of a manifestation - one can even say of a new awareness - of the struggle which he will have to wage to the bitter end against Satan, sin's craftsman. Overcoming his temptations, he thus showed his saving power over sin and the advent of God's kingdom, as he would one day say: "If I drive out demons by the power of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:28).

The Spirit was revealed both in Christ's power over evil and Satan, and in this coming of God's kingdom through Christ's actions.

4. It is well to observe that in the temptations which Jesus underwent and overcame during the desert experience, one notes Satan's opposition to the coming of God's kingdom into the human world. This opposition is directly or indirectly expressed in the texts of the evangelists. The answers which Jesus gave to the tempter unmask the fundamental intentions of the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44) who tried in perverse fashion to use the words of Scripture to reach his goals. But Jesus refuted him on the basis of the same Word of God, properly applied.

The evangelists' narrative perhaps in some way echoes and establishes a parallel between the analogous temptations of the people of Israel in their forty year pilgrimage in the desert (the search for nourishment: cf. Dt 8:3; Ex 16; the pretext of divine protection for self-satisfaction: cf. Dt 6:13; Ex 32:1-6) and with various moments in Moses' life. But the episode forms part of the history of Jesus, specifically, one could say, in its biographical and theological logic. Though exempt from sin, Jesus experienced the external seductions of evil (cf. Mt 16:23). It was well that he was tempted in order to become the new Adam, our head, our merciful Redeemer (cf. Mt 26:36-46; Heb 2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 5:2, 7-9).

At the root of all the temptations was the vision of a glorious political messiahship, which was widespread and had penetrated the soul of the people of Israel. The devil sought to lead Jesus to accept this false perspective, because the devil is the adversary of God's plan, of God's law and of God's economy of salvation. He is therefore the enemy of Christ, as is seen in the Gospel and other New Testament writings (cf. Mt 13:39; Jn 8:44; 13:2; Acts 10:38; Eph 6:11; 1 Jn 3:8;etc.). If Christ too were to fall, the empire of Satan who boasts that he is the ruler of the world (cf. Lk 4:5-6) would have the final victory in history. So that moment of struggle in the desert was decisive.

5. Jesus knew that he was sent by the Father to establish God's kingdom in the world of humanity. On the one hand, for this purpose he accepted being tempted in order to take his proper place among sinners. He had already done this at the Jordan, in order to serve as a model for all (cf. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 4:13). But on the other hand, by virtue of the Holy Spirit's anointing, he reached into the very roots of sin and defeated the one who is the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44). Thus he willingly went to face the temptations at the start of his ministry, complying with the Holy Spirit's impulse (cf. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 13:13).

One day when his mission was completed he would proclaim: "Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out" (Jn 12:31). On the eve of his passion he would repeat once again: "The ruler of the world is coming; but he has no power over me" (Jn 14:30); rather, "the ruler of this world has been condemned" (Jn 16:33). The struggle against the "father of lies" who is the "ruler of this world," begun in the desert, will reach its climax on Golgotha. The victory will come about through the cross of the Redeemer.

6. We are therefore called to the full value of the desert as a place for a special experience of God, as it was for Moses (cf. Ex 24:18), and for Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs 19:8), and as it was above all for Jesus. Led by the Holy Spirit, he was willing to go through the same experience. It was one of contact with God the Father (cf. Hos 2:16) in contrast to the powers which oppose God. His experience is exemplary, and can serve as a lesson for us on the need for penance—not for Jesus who was without sin, but for all of us. Jesus himself one day would admonish his disciples about the need for prayer and fasting in order to cast out "unclean spirits" (cf. Mk 9:29). Amidst the tension of his solitary prayer in Gethsemane, he counseled the apostles who were there: "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mk 14:38). By conforming ourselves to the victorious Christ of the desert, we will discover that we too have a divine Comforter: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Jesus Christ promised that he would "take from what is mine" and give it to you (cf. Jn 16:14). He will take some of Christ's victory over sin and Satan, sin's first craftsman, to associate with it anyone who is tempted—he who led the Messiah into the desert not only "to be tempted," but also so that he might give the initial proof of his victorious power over the devil and his reign."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Et maintenant, je salue avec joie Mgr Michel Callens, Prélat de Tunis et le Groupe des étudiants chrétiens africains, hôtes de la Tunisie pour le temps de leurs études universitaires, et si heureux du soutien efficace que Mgr Callens et les petites communautés catholiques de ce pays leur procurent. Que votre Foyer de La Fraternité soit toujours bien vivant et vous prépare à rejoindre vos pays respectifs d’Afrique Centrale et Occidentale pour y être de vaillants témoins de l’Evangile!

J’adresse un chaleureux salut aux pèlerins de l’Ile de la Réunion. Comment oublierais-je l’accueil magnifique des Réunionnais, les 1 et 2 mai 1989? A vous, qui êtes engagés dans l’animation de vos paroisses, tous mes encouragements les plus cordiaux à persévérer!

Aux petits Chanteurs Zaírois de Cadutu, guidés par le Père Hoarau, j’adresse mes félicitations pour leur participation au récent Congrès International de Maastricht et mes vœux pour leur engagement toujours généreux et joyeux au service du Culte Divin. Que le Christ vous bénisse, ainsi que votre chère Paroisse de Cadutu. A tous les pèlerins de langue française venus à cette audience, mes remerciements chaleureux et ma Bénédiction Apostolique!

Ad un gruppo di fedeli provenienti da Quezon City

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome the group of Cursillistas from Quezon City in the Philippines, and assure them of my prayers and deep concern for the victims of the recent earthquake. May God in his mercy grant consolation and strength to the entire Filipino people at this time of trial. I also greet the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence from the United States, who are celebrating their silver and golden jubilees of religious profession. To the pilgrims from the Diocese of Tulsa, who have come to Rome with their Bishops, I extend a cordial welcome. And to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ad un gruppo di pellegrini giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini venuti da Tokyo e da Kyoto: auspico che il frutto del vostro pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli sia come l’evangelico “granello di senape” che porti frutti di grazia per la Chiesa in Giappone, sotto la guida della Madonna. Con questo augurio vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Ich wünsche Euch frohe und geistig bereichernde Tage in Rom und allen, die gegenwärtig Ferien machen, gute Erholung. Euch und Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Hörern und Hörerinnen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

Ai pellegrini della Spagna e dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar a los sacerdotes, religiosos y religiosas, así como a los peregrinos de América Latina y España presentes en esta Audiencia, de modo especial al grupo de jóvenes mexicanas. Mientras os invito a poner vuestros ojos en Dios, os imparto complacido mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Aos peregrinos de Portugal e do Brasil concedo de coração a minha Bênção Apostólica. Louvado seja Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo!

Ai connazionali polacchi

Magna Domina Hungarorum!

Dziś z Jasnej Góry patrzymy w stronę prastarej korony świętego Stefana. Dziękujemy za wszystkie dziejowe więzy w przeszłości. Świadczą o nich także wspólne imiona świętych i błogosławionych: Kinga, Salomea, Jolanta . . .

Wreszcie Jadwiga. Na przełomie czasów - Andegawenka, z Piastowskiej jeszcze genealogii, a równocześnie - otwierająca po wygaśnięciu piastów nową wielką dynastię. Młodzieńcza królowa, żona Jagiełły, boleśnie doświadczona w swym macierzyństwie, matka ludów. Stała się też początkiem okresu, który w dziejach zasłużył sobie na nazwę wieku złotego.

Na Wawelu, u stóp Czarnego Krucyfiksu, czczona przez pokolenia błogosławiona Jadwiga. Przy niej Węgrzy i Polacy wspólnie patrzą w swoją przeszłość.

A współczesność . . . Wspólna pamięć roku 1956.

Trudna droga do społecznej podmiotowości. Do suwerennego bytu narodu, który w dziejach Europy wielokrotnie określił siebie. Ma także prawo współtworzyć przyszłość starego kontynentu.

Magna Domina Hungarorum!

Pani Jasnogórska!

Wzbudź w naszych narodach gotowość cierpliwej walki o zachowanie pokoju i wolności . . . Błogosław naszej pracy . . . Niech Duch Święty odnawia oblicze naszych ojczystych ziem i umacnia nasze narody.

Pozdrawiam wszystkich obecnych: pielgrzymkę z archidiecezji krakowskiej; pielgrzymkę z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Jastrzębia Zdroju; pielgrzymkę z Bielska-Białej; pielgrzymkę z sanktuarium Jezusa Ukrzyżowanego z Kobylanki; z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela z Chełma; z parafii św. Maksymiliana Kolbego z Kiczna i z parafii Narodzenia Matki Boskiej z Sędziszowa Małopolskiego; z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa w Rzeszowie; z parafii św. Tomasza Apostoła w Zamościu; pielgrzymkę rowerową z Kielc; pielgrzymów z parafii Matki Bożej Jasnogórskiej z Łodzi Widzewa; z parafii Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej z Ksawerowa; z parafii św. Antoniego z Tomaszowa Mazowieckiego; z parafii Wniebowzię cia Matki Bożej w Skierniewicach; pielgrzymkę międzyparafialną z Włocławka; pielgrzymów z parafii św. Wojciecha z Kowali w diecezji sandomiersko-radomskiej; pielgrzymkę rowerową młodzieży z parafii Świętej Trójcy z Radzynia Podlaskiego; z parafii Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiej i św. Kazimierza z Moniek; z parafii św. Wojciecha z Ełku; z parafii św. Maksymiliana Kolbego i św. Józefa ze Słupska; z parafii Matki Bożej Królowej Polski z Głogowa; z parafii Bogurodzicy z Poznania; z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela z Legnicy; młodzież oazową z diecezji opolskiej; dziecięcy i młodzieżowy zespół “Teatr 13” z Chicago; grupę profesorów i uczniów z liceum ogólnokształcącego im. Marcina Wadowity z Wadowic; grupę studentów i pracowników naukowych AGH z Krakowa; grupę górników z kopalni Zabrze-Bielszowice; nauczycieli z Logos Touru z Leżajska; pielgrzymów z parafii Chrystusa Króla w Radomiu; prócz tego uczestników grup turystycznych: Sigma Travel z Warszawy, Juventuru ze Stalowej Woli, Cenrexu z całej Polski.

Ai partecipanti al corso estivo di lingua latina in svolgimento a Roma

Antiqua etiam illa at immortali lingua Latina consalutare hodie cupimus plures quidem participes curriculi intensi litterarum Latinarum, cui nomen “Aestiva Romae Latinitas”, qui undique ex gentibus Romae duos menses adsunt ut sermonem ipsum Latinum addiscant, suam scribendi loquendique facultatem perficiant, auctores omnium aetatum et monumenta degustent tum Christiana tum ethnica. Vehementer sane omnes eosdem discipulos ac discipulas cohortamur ut in laudabili hos perseverantes studio suamque eruditionem aliis cum alumnis sua quisque in natione communicantes hos ipsos thesauros conservent diligenter ac sapienter illuminent permagnum in societatis futurae emolumentum.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai membri della “Federazione Lasalliana d’Italia” riuniti in congresso nazionale e impegnati nelle varie Associazioni di carattere spirituale, culturale, caritativo, sportivo, che operano nell’ambito della grande Famiglia Lasalliana. Auguro a voi tutti di crescere sempre più nella vostra generosa testimonianza di fede e di vita cristiana.

Sentite felicitazioni intendo esprimere al gruppo di Missionari Comboniani, che celebrano quest’anno il 50° anniversario di ordinazione presbiterale. Mi unisco, carissimi Fratelli, alla vostra gioia, al vostro “grazie” a Cristo per avervi resi partecipi del suo sacerdozio. Vi auguro un ancor lungo e fecondo ministero di evangelizzazione per le strade del mondo.

Un cordiale saluto anche ai Componenti del “Corpo Musicale Arcisate”, accompagnati dal Sindaco, dalla Giunta Comunale, da parenti ed amici. Vi esorto ad essere sempre lieti nel Signore e di trasmettere agli altri, con la vostra vita e con la vostra musica, tanta gioia spirituale.

Un pensiero di saluto di augurio anche ai giovani provenienti dal raduno del “Campo Chianti” di Castellina in Chianti, nell’ambito degli scambi giovanili dei “Lions Clubs International”.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Saluto ora i giovani, i malati e le coppie degli sposi novelli. Su ciascuno di voi, carissimi, invoco la ricchezza di grazia e di luce, che irradia dal Salvatore, affinché siate sempre più in grado di conoscere l suo volere, e la vostra vita sia orientata al bene vero e definitivo: Dio. Fate vostra la preghiera della Vergine Maria: “Accada di me secondo la tua parola”, e certamente vi saranno concesse quelle energie spirituali, che consentono alle vostre persone di essere pienamente disponibili al disegno salvifico divino, sia che vi prepariate alla vita secondo verità e giustizia, sia che portiate il dolore in umile e devota offerta, sia che testimoniate l’infinito e paterno amore di Dio, che ha santificato la reciproca donazione sponsale nel gesto di fede del sacramento nuziale. La mia Benedizione Apostolica vi accompagni sempre.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana