In today's readings from the Gospel of Saint Matthew we hear of Christ's experience in the desert. Matthew tells us that in the desert "He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry."
Have you ever wondered why Jesus went to the desert to fast and be tempted by the devil? Or why Matthew makes a point to tell us that it was for forty days and forty nights that He fasted?
In Matthew's gospel Jesus is presented as the new Moses; His famous "Sermon on the Mount" is a parallel to Moses' receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In Deuteronomy, we read of Moses spending 40 days and 40 nights fasting on the Mountain before receiving the Tablets from God. Moses' explanation gives us light into Christ's fast and time of temptation.
"Then...I lay prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights without eating or drinking, because of all the sin you had committed in the sight of the Lord and the evil you had done to provoke him. For I dreaded the fierce anger of the Lord against you: his wrath would destroy you. Yet...the Lord listened to me....Those forty days, then, and forty nights, I lay prostrate before the Lord, because he had threatened to destroy you." (v 18-19, 25)
Jesus began His ministry in fasting and prayer that God might have mercy on us and turn his wrath away from us. Jesus stood in the breach because He dreaded our destruction.
It is fitting then, that we spend this holy season of Lent in fasting and prayer. Our fasts and prayers are a participation in Christ's fasts and prayers in the desert. It is He who has won for us the victory and who now invites us to share in it.