It isn't Lent today. It was Lent yesterday, in fact for the past 4 days, and it will be lent again tomorrow. But not today. Because today is Sunday, which is the day of the week when Jesus rose from death, and the power of resurrection trumps everything else. So there are 40 days of Lent leading us to Easter — 40 Mondays and Saturdays and Tuesdays — but every Sunday we step aside from preparing for Easter so that we can celebrate the Easter which we already have.
At least, that's the most common Protestant explanation.
There's more than one interpretation of Lent. One of them is that we all need to reflect on our sinfulness and on how enormous Christ's sacrifice was: to die, as if he were a criminal, on behalf of all of us, who are. In this view, Lent is primarily a time for sorrow and for repentence.
An alternative interpretation of Lent remembers the time for teaching new converts about the good news and new life Jesus Christ brings to us. In the early church, Easter Eve was thought the most appropriate time for joining the church, and so converts were taught during the 40 days prior. In this view, Lent is a time for us to refocus our lives on the gospel story and rededicate ourselves to living the good news.
The length of Lent, the 40 days, might remind us of the 40 days of rain which brought on the flood in Noah's time, the 40 days it took for Elijah to walk to Mount Horeb where he would meet with God, or the 40 days when Moses was talking with God on Mount Sinai at the beginning of the 40 years in the wilderness. But this length of time is tied most directly to the gospel story for today, Jesus' 40 day wilderness fast.
The gospel reading makes clear that this was an intentional retreat before Jesus began a public ministry. Luke begins the story by telling us that Jesus was full of the Spirit and that it was the Spirit who led him into the dry country.
While he was there, Jesus met the devil. Now this
devil is already a problem for our understanding
of the text. There isn't very much in the Bible
that describes the devil; either everybody already
knew or nobody thought it was important. Many of
the references that do exist are mocking allusions
to pagan gods, as with the name Ba'al Zebûb
(Lord of the Flies). We miss a lot of that
cultural wordplay. On the other hand, we have
added a lot since the Bible was written. When
people of Jesus' time wrote about the devil or
when they listened to Jesus mention the devil,
they did not have in their minds the illuminated
manuscripts of the 12th century, or Dante's
Inferno, or Protestant sermons.
Luke himself isn't any help in understanding the devil; he tells us nothing at all about this tempter. Could it be that for Luke the devil isn't the key point? What Luke tells about are the temptations and Jesus' responses to them. So we may suppose that what Luke wants us to pay attention to is how Jesus answers temptation.
The first temptation is material comfort. If I had undertaken a wilderness fast, I know that I'd be hungry — even if I were allowed locusts and wild honey that I could find in the dry country. (The text allows the interpretation of eating nothing not found in the desert.) Now, then, if God loves me, surely God does not want me to suffer pangs of hunger. Unlike some of the pagan gods, our God loves us and wants what's best for us. So, if you have the ability to obtain a fresh, warm loaf of yeasty bread and you are hungry, why would you hesitate?
Sound familiar? I know I've heard that voice talking to me. Usually I find myself agreeing; yes, I'm sure that doughnut is what God wants for me.
How does Jesus respond? He says, bread is not
enough. He quotes a part of the 8th chapter of
Deuteronomy, where Moses tells the people (who
have been in the wilderness for 40 years) that God
humbled you by making you hungry and then
feeding you with unfamiliar manna. [God] did this
to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread
alone, but also by everything that comes from the
Lord’s mouth. … Be keenly aware that just as
a parent disciplines [a] child, the Lord your God
disciplines you. So you must keep [God's]
commandments, live according to [God's] standards,
and revere [God].
And there is a promise which goes with this.
Moses goes on to say,
For the Lord your God is bringing you
to a good land … You will eat your fill
and then praise the Lord your God because of the
good land he has given you. [NET]
Jesus' answer was,
Material comfort is not the
first or only thing on my mind. This not so
much denying himself food as it is placing God
first. In fact, putting what is most important
first is not denying yourself at all; it is
affirming who you truly are. The wilderness fast
which Jesus undertook was not about being hungry
for bread. Instead, it was about being full of
God. As Meister Eckhart put it in a sermon,
a person were really to deny himself, he would
actually be God's and God his. I am as sure of
this as I am that I am a man. For such a person
all things are as easy to leave behind as a lentil
is, and the more one leaves, the more one likes
Next, the devil offers political and economic
power. Well, why not? Think how much good you
could do (or even I) as king of the world. The
king of the world could outlaw human trafficking
and the murder of children to make political
statements. Of course, those things are already
outlawed, and they still happen. If I were the
king of the world, I might command fair wages to
all workers — resulting, I'm sure, in military
commanders and captains of industry increasing the
amount of their own compensation on the grounds that
previously they had been content with less than their
fair share. I might even command the police forces
around the world to put a stop to crime, only to
rediscover (as Frank Herbert expressed it),
It takes a pretty dull policeman to miss the fact
that the position of authority is the most
prosperous criminal position available. 
But no matter. If ever I were to become king of the world I would be deposed within the year and someone would take over who had more guile and fewer scruples. It is no wonder that the devil offers world domination. The devil knows that if you get power you will either be corrupted or forced out.
Jesus doesn't fall for this lie. Jesus returns to
Moses' words in Deuteronomy, this time the 6th
chapter, to answer that he is going to put God
first in every thing. Moses said,
These words I
am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and
you must teach them to your children and speak of
them as you sit in your house, as you walk along
the road, as you lie down, and as you get up.
… Then when the Lord your God brings you to
the land he promised your ancestors …
be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you
out of … slavery. You must revere the Lord
your God, [and] serve [God]. [NET]
Lastly, in Luke's telling, the devil brings Jesus to Jerusalem, to the temple, and suggests Jesus risk his life in a dramatic show of who he is. If you are God's appointed savior, then surely you want to let the people know. Show the people a sign, the devil suggests, and they will follow you.
I imagine a more devilish argument than just the
few words that Luke reports. I imagine the devil
Alright; you needn't follow my road.
But let me give you some advice. I've been
devilishly successful at recruiting people, so I
know what I'm talking about. If you are going to
build a people for God, you have to keep their
attention. Otherwise the people will become
distracted with watching YouTube and texting their
friends and will fall away from listening to your
talks and coming to your meals. And then the whole
movement will fall apart. You need something
dramatic, something unexpected, and most of all
something very public so that you can leverage the
Twitter feeds to keep people coming. Trust me on
But Jesus does not trust the devil on this point.
Jesus, at the end of 40 days in the wilderness,
seems fixated with the words Moses spoke at the
end of the 40 years in the wilderness. Moses said,
You must not put the Lord your God to the test
as you did at Massah. Keep his commandments very
carefully, as well as the stipulations and
statutes he commanded you to observe. Do whatever
is proper and good. [NET]
Jesus took as his model this ancient hero Moses. Moses, the guy who talked with God — and then hid the glow so as not to frighten the people. Moses, the leader who walked off with God before he died so that no one could start a religious cult at his tomb. Moses, who offered to take on himself the punishment for the misdeeds of his people. When Jesus faced temptation, his response was to follow the example of Moses.
You don't need Lent in order to meet the devil.
You don't need to set aside 40 days to be tempted
by success and power and comfort. You don't need
40 days to be distracted by church attendance
figures and social reformation and taking care of
yourself. But, maybe, 40 days to set all those
things aside; 40 days to be free to live as a child
of God, to
do whatever is proper and good,
by everything that comes from the
Lord, to keep God's words in mind, to
them to your children and speak of them as you sit
in your house, as you walk along the road, as you
lie down, and as you get up.
The prayer of Ephrem the Syrian, traditional for Great Lent: