Did you ever wonder why the solemn season of Lent is 40 days long? I think most Catholics know the answer: “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540).
Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights and so do we, but this still leaves the question: why 40?
If we look at Jesus’ temptation in the desert in Matthew 4:1-11, we find a few clues. Each time Jesus responds to the devil, he replies with Scripture. When the devil says, “Turn these stones to bread,” Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
When the devil tell Jesus to throw himself down from the temple, Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
When the devil commands Jesus to worship him, Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:13 (10:20): “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
Deuteronomy! Deuteronomy! Deuteronomy! Could the answer to “why 40 days?” be found in Deuteronomy? The number 40 does come up in Deuteronomy in some pretty significant ways. For example, Moses twice fasts for 40 days. The first time is when he was preparing himself to receive the Ten Commandments to give to Israel at the base of the mountain (Deuteronomy 9:9-11). Curiously, Jesus gives the New Law on the Sermon on the Mount shortly after his 40-day fast (Matthew 5).
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