Our reflection for the first week of Lent (17-23 February 2013) is written by Danielle Vella, editor of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN).
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” Lk 4:1-2
Stuck in the desert, struggling with desolation, we face the seductive temptation to forget about God’s plan and to satisfy our own interests. Like Jesus, we could emerge from this difficult experience not only unscathed but also stronger; with a conviction that it is only by serving others that we can live life to the full.
It could go another way: if we yield to the temptation to focus purely on ourselves, we may end up getting stuck in the desert, much like the Israelites who succumbed to the lure of the golden calf.
Recounting the story first of the Israelites and later of Jesus in the desert, the Bible presents us with an experience that is part of our own journey of growth. At some point or other, many of us feel hungry and thirsty for something that suddenly seems to be missing, propelled by an inner restlessness to seek fulfillment, how and where we are not sure. Once-comforting certainties no longer reassure us. Doubts, desolation and discouragement kick in.
There is the temptation to channel our search for deeper meaning into building our own kingdom, to pander to longings for personal security, recognition and the good life. Or we can sit still and listen to the voice of God hidden in our wilderness, reminding us that He alone is our rock, fortress and salvation.
Secure in the love of God, we are freer to follow in the footsteps of His son Jesus who, on leaving the desert, began His public ministry of preaching and healing, “filled with the power of the spirit”.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was especially alert to the plight of the poorest of the poor, showing special concern for people who were sick and rejected. It is not difficult to find parallels in today’s world. Among those whose plight is reminiscent of the biblical lepers healed by Jesus are people living with HIV.
HIV is no longer a death sentence for infected people who have access to the right treatment and care. But this access is far from universal. And what treatment can be given for stigma, a woman with HIV once asked, and for other injustices like poverty and gender inequality, which cohabit with AIDS, multiply its lethal qualities and make the life of some people with HIV a misery?
Rodah from Kenya tried to kill herself four times before a neighbour alerted a Christian community in the area; their loving care saved her life. “I’m no different from any other person; I’m just living with a virus,” Rodah says. “But I need a lot of strength. My family has not accepted me. I’ve lost jobs because I’m HIV-positive. When I walk in the street, some people press against the wall.” Despite the difficulties, Rodah is doing fine thanks to her courage and faith, and friends she can rely on.
In recent years, AIDS has faded from public attention, not least due to the somewhat mistaken idea that the epidemic is no longer a big cause for concern. But dig past the surface and you’ll find a different storyline, as Rodah’s words reveal.
As Christians, we are called to be constantly alert to the urgent needs around us that cry for attention – those of people with AIDS and others who suffer injustice. Once we are aware we will find ways to act.
In this season of Lent, let’s reflect on our choices. Will we wander endlessly in the desert, or will we emerge purified and with a renewed willingness to seek out and do all we can to help those in greater need?
To read the reflection in French, please go here.
To read the reflection of Ash Wednesday please go here.