CHAPTER XXIII. OUR lord's baptism and sojourn in the desert
|duccio di buoninsegna the temptation of christ on the mountain featured|
SEVERAL years had elapsed since the death of Joseph, and, as we have said, Mary lived an even more retired life. She meditated and prayed continually: meditated on the miracles of joy with which her youth had been filled, and prayed for strength that she might be fortified to bear the unrivaled sorrows that awaited her.
Humble and resigned, she conversed with her Son when He descended from the mountain, to which He was so often accustomed to retire—there to think on the salvation of men, and the price that should be paid for it. Often, too, she spoke with the angels who visited now, as formerly, the abode where dwelt the Word made flesh. Mary was the mysterious link by which heaven and earth were united, the channel of divine grace. But despite this sublime mission, despite the high dignity with which she was clothed, Mary lived like the humblest of women.
O ye retired ones, who love your loneliness, think of our Mother Mary in her hidden life at Nazareth! Rejoice and be proud of your obscurity!
Jesus had now attained full manhood, being in His thirtieth year.
"And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the desert of Judea." (St. Matthew iii, I)
Too well did Mary, the Mother of Jesus, comprehend what was in store. The words of the holy Precursor were carried to her ears: "But He that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire."
Her Son was meant, her divine Son, who was her very God, though flesh of her flesh! On the eve of that day on which the preaching of John had been repeated to her, she prepared the meal of barley cakes and spread them before him. She was silent, brooding within her soul on the wonderful things which had already happened and were now about to occur.
"On the morrow I go from hence to Bethany," said Jesus, in His mild and gentle tones. "To John, who preacheth near Jericho, on the lower Jordan. The son of Zachary doth fulfil his mission."
Mary's heart grew cold within her. Jesus was a man—was the time of separation at hand? Was He to leave her . . . now? Was this the dread hour? But even as these thoughts assailed her, He seemed to understand the depths of fear into which His words had plunged that loving heart, and gazed at her tenderly.
"I shall return," He said.
The Mother's heart bounded with joy, as intense as had been its fear. Not yet, not yet! Tears of happiness rose to her eyes. She must give Him up, some day, soon, but she could dwell in quietness a short while longer. She withdrew to her little cell to thank her God that the moment had not yet approached!
And on the morrow Jesus went from Galilee "to the Jordan, unto John to be baptized by him." (St. Matthew iii, 13)
Can we picture in our imagination this solemn meeting between the Precursor, who had lived so long in the desert, whose food had been locusts and wild honey, who, sanctified before his birth by the Saviour, had led the existence of an angel? And the reward of his years of privation was that the God he loved and worshiped came to be baptized at his hands.
"I ought to be baptized by Thee," he exclaimed. "Comest Thou to me?"
"Suffer it to be so now," answered the Saviour, mildly. "For so it becometh us to fulfil all justice." (St. Matthew 14, 15.)
In spirit the Blessed Virgin followed her beloved Son, followed Him to the Jordan. In spirit she knelt with the angels when the waters began to flow upon the innocent head of the Redeemer, who was to take away the sins of the world. In her heart she blessed the orphan son of Elizabeth and Zachary, for the love with which he saluted Jesus.
"This is He of whom I spoke!" he cried. "He that shall come after me is preferred before me, because He was before me, and of His fulness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (St. John i, 15-17.)
' ' 1 But He will return," whispered the loving Mother to her heart. " He has spoken the word. The hour is not yet. He will return to me."
The desert, the wilderness of Judea, now stretched before the Saviour. Immediately after His baptism He was led by the Spirit, to be tempted by the devil. O most mysterious but most certain event in the history of mankind! The true Son of God tempted by the Evil One!
' The wild aspect of this desolate region was familiar to John the Precursor, since he had lived there many years. Far from a corrupt world, in silence and by prayer, he had slowly made himself ready for his difficult mission. St. Mark tells us that in the wilderness the Son of God "was with beasts," and tradition points to a high mountain a little west of Jericho as the "very high mountain" from which the Tempter showed Our Lord all the kingdoms of the world. This mountain, a limestone peak, exceedingly sharp and abrupt, and overlooking the plain of the Jordan and beyond, has been called the Quarantania, in allusion to the fast of forty days. (Cf. Gigot, "Outlines of New Testament History," Chapter VIII.)
And we can well understand that the exalted Mother was allowed to perceive her beloved Child in the heart of the desert. For forty days the Saviour fasted, and Satan assailed the Son of man, not by interior temptations, but by outward suggestions.
"We have not a high priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities; but one tempted in all things such as we are [yet] without sin." (Hebrews iv, 15.)
So did this second Adam suffer humiliation, that all the sons of Adam might share in His victory. The Evil One presented himself to the weary Saviour for the final test—the great assault.
"And the Tempter, coming, said to Him: If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
"Who answered and said: Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
"Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, and set Him upon the pinnacle of the Temple:
"If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written: That He hath given His angels charge over Thee, and in their hands shall they bear Thee up ...
"Jesus said: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
"Again the devil took Him up into a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.
"And said to Him: All these will I give Thee, if, falling down, Thou wilt adore me.
"Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written: The Lord, thy God, shalt thou adore,
and Him only shalt thou serve." (St. Matthew iv, 3-10.)
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Mary, His holy Mother, whose most pure gaze had never rested on any being but the spirits of heaven, now beheld the dread spirit of darkness as he approached her Son. She shuddered at the sight....
But the Man-God, who had humbled Himself, triumphed, and Satan was driven back to hell, carrying all the shame of defeat with him. And when he had left our divine Saviour, the angels came to serve their God.
"But He will return," wept the Mother, crossing her arms upon her aching heart. "He will return."
And she threw herself upon her knees, and raised her sinless hands to heaven in love and adoration.
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Our Lord returned to her, accompanied by His first disciples. The Mother met Him, and knelt on the ground before Him. And He laid His hands upon her head, blessing her.