When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. – Luke 4:13 (NRSV)
The first time I read Luke’s account of the encounter between Jesus and the devil in the desert, its final line sent a chill up my spine. It still does.
Unlike Matthew’s and Mark’s versions, no ministering angels show up for Jesus in Luke’s telling. Instead, Luke points to the trials yet to come. The devil “departed from him until an opportune time.” The forty days of hunger, fear, and temptation are just a foretaste of the long haul ahead.
To encounter Luke’s text on the First Sunday in Lent is to be reminded that our journey is uncertain and hard—and that it won’t automatically end on Easter Sunday. As a good friend in the midst of a painful divorce said once, “I think Lent this year is going to last a lot longer than forty days.” She was right.
The devil’s opportune time can show up in every season. At least it does in my life, perhaps in yours as well.
There is an odd gift in that awareness. It reminds us of our dependency on God, not only in Lent but throughout our lives. As Oscar Romero, martyred archbishop of El Salvador, affirmed: “Beautiful is the moment when we understand we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do... What that means, my beloved friends, is to pray very much, to be very united with God.”
God, in this long haul of Lent and beyond, help us to pray very much, to be very united with you. Amen.