Change takes time. In a culture increasingly insistent on instant response, the change process is all but lost. The idea that building a habit is an overnight miracle is a myth. It demands my deliberate engagement and a long process to ensure change is lasting and not merely superficial. Research suggests that some habits, such as drinking a bottle of water with lunch, may be achieved quite simply within 18 days, while more complex habits will take around two months. So while Jesus was not changing a habit, he was establishing how he would live his life in ministry.
Forty was a number that would have resonated with his Jewish audience. Forty was the number associated with transition and a new beginning. It’s why the Jewish punishment for offenders was 40 lashes less one, the aim to bring someone to the point of transition and a fresh start. This wilderness experience was a period of transition for Jesus. Having entered the wilderness filled with the Holy Spirit through his baptism, Jesus returned 40 days later in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lent offers us a space where we can look to make a fresh start. It is why the Church historically welcomed new converts into its ranks at Easter – they made a new start through baptism and receiving the Eucharist for the first time. A fresh start is not simply because I messed up in some way. It’s also looking to start a new chapter in my walk of faith.
The battles I wrestle in the wilderness are often more about the potential threat to my comfort zone any transition might require. Most of us dislike change, so we seek to replicate what we know and trust, simply because of its familiarity. Faith is ever moving, expanding, challenging, illuminating. The question I ask myself each Lent is, “Am I growing in my faith?” The answer I seek from God.