In many ways, this last year has been extremely difficult. While I’m sure many amazing things have happened all over the world throughout the year, to me all I can seem to remember are the terrible events that make up the overall identity of 2005. First, although technically it took place in 2004, the Asian Tsunami that devastated so many in South Asia. Then the London bombings, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the earthquake in Pakistan. Not to mention the “silent tsunami” as Jim Wallis puts it, that we continue to allow that happen everyday to thousands of children due to starvation. On a bit more of a personal level was the death of Kyle Lake which moved me to simply ask “Why?”. All of these events, some public and some private, that we’ve been affected by……it’s just too staggering.
This past year, for me, has been faith shaking and has left me asking questions that are full of anger and sadness. I’ve been thinking about this very much over the span of the last year, but especially during the last few weeks as we tend to reflect back. This pondering has led me to the story of Jesus that appears in three of the four gospels about his forty days and nights in the wilderness. The accounts say that he was led by the spirit into the wilderness to survive without food and in the midst of temptation. In the past I’ve read these accounts and sort of glossed over the significance. Why would Jesus need to do this? What was the point? Why would he do this voluntarily? To me this story seemed more about his interaction with the Devil and his turning away from evil temptation. This is indeed a important point of the story, but certainly not the whole story.
I’m a huge Survivor fan. Not the band, but the t.v. show. It basically puts people in a wilderness setting for 36 days. They have a little food. They have community. Still, they are always miserable. Simply watching them go through it all is miserable from the comforts of my couch. The separation from family, the steady diet of not much at all, and the competition wears many of them down, even to mental instability. I think to myself often that I could never do it. With this in mind, I think of the experience Jesus had during his 40 days in the wilderness. He’s totally alone with no food and is facing a crisis of temptation. Not only is this unimaginable for me to think about doing, but Jesus does this voluntarily while being “moved by the spirit”. It’s easy to think “But it’s Jesus. He’s the Son of God. He has an advantage and can do those kinds of crazy things. We can’t expect that WE can or should do that. It’s simply not safe.” At least that would be my reply to someone asking me to do what Jesus did. All that might be conventional reasoning, but it’s simply evil thinking. We have to consider that Jesus, although he was divine, he was fully human. When he doesn’t eat, he suffers. When he’s cut off from other people and alone, he suffers. While he’s tempted to turn a rock into a loaf of bread, it makes his suffering even more unbearable.
Most of us, in Jesus’ shoes would pray to God and ask for food or water. After all, if we are starving then God is supposed to take care of us, right? But even though Jesus has the ability to eat, he does the opposite of pray to God for his own benefit, but he decides to compound his pain by ignoring the temptation. When tempted, Jesus replies with a quote from the Torah saying, “It is written: People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
In many cases during this year, our “bread” or our comfort and health have been taken away. We have been removed from where we are happiest and content. Some of us have lost loved ones. Some of us have lost our homes. Some have lost both in a blink of an eye. It’s unimaginable from my standpoint and it’s heartbreaking to see happen on such a regular basis throughout the past year.
When looking at this story of Jesus in the wilderness, we must look at what Jesus does immediately after his time of trial. As he emerges from the 40 days and nights, he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work on showing the world who God is and his message of love and redemption for all. Maybe for Jesus, the time in the wilderness that was full of emotional and physical pain was as just important to his message as his miracles were.
How many of us are willing to voluntarily remove ourselves from everything and rely on the spirit of God to mold us with trials and pain? Who will make this pilgrimage of 40 days and nights in order to change the world? Maybe through this story of Jesus in the wilderness, we can look back on this past year and emerge more ready and willing to change the world for the better. Sounds like a prayer to me.