As we started this journey of Lent yesterday with Matthew, we entered the place of wilderness and watched as Jesus wrestled verbally with the devil. It was a rich dialogue of temptation and power and scripture… with some magical teleportation thrown in there for good measure. But as Keith Mcilwain reminds us, the devil is not all pitchforks and fireworks. (For yesterday’s Lenten Blog Tour reflection click here)
Today, though, we find ourselves in the gospel of Mark. He is terse with his words. He is urgent. In less verses than sum up the verbal banter of yesterday, we get Jesus’ baptism, the wilderness and the first description of his ministry.
About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “ You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness. ”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.
After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “ Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news! ” (Mark 1:9-15, Common English Bible)
The wilderness keeps calling out to me.
And in Mark’s text, the wilderness was somewhere Jesus was forced to go.
Other translations have used words like “sent,” “impelled,” “pushed,” “drove.”
But “forced” feels different. Just because you are sent doesn’t mean you have to go. You chose to obey. To be impelled or driven gives me the sense that there is something that urges you on, be it internal or external, and your own will aligns itself with that push. But to be forced… it means I don’t want to do something but I don’t have a choice.
Did Jesus want to be in the wilderness?
Did he want to spend forty days wrestling with Satan? Sure, there were angels watching out over him, but it was also the wilderness! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
He had to be forced to take this time apart, because after the wilderness, there was a job to do.
I sometimes have to force myself into the wilderness of Lent, too.
I’m really too busy to spend any extra time in prayer and fasting and study… I’ve got a job to do. I have important ministry that takes place.
But when I force myself to stop… when I hand a piece of my life over to God for a while… I find that all those priorities re-align. I suddenly remember it’s not about me.
Maybe it is a good thing that before we can even blink Mark has led us through the wilderness and back out again into ministry.
When I stop to think about it, I am comforted by the fact that the wilderness is not forever. It is not something we do just for the sake of doing it. We don’t even spend time in the wilderness to please God… as our passage reminds us, Jesus has already done that before the time “out there” has begun.
It reminds me that I’m going to come out of this time in the wilderness.
It reminds me that sometimes the wilderness will make us want to weep… or pray… or shout.
It reminds me that most importantly… when we come out the wilderness, we do so leaning on the Lord.
We sometimes have to force ourselves to spend time in the wilderness to get our heads and hearts screwed on straight. We have to force ourselves into this time of discipline, this time of waiting, this time of dependence upon God and God’s mercy, so that when we come out the wilderness, we will remember it’s not about us.