Luke 4:1-13, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil…”
Forty days Christ was in the wilderness—a wilderness of desert and wild animals. Shade could be found under shrubbery, but not shade fit for a human being. Water could be found if one had roots to burrow into the strata of sand, soil, and rock; but humans have hands with which to claw and dig, not roots to plant and drink. Forty days Christ was in the wilderness—a marvelous place for many of God’s creatures, but not a hospitable one for humankind.
And yet, into the desert wilderness Christ went. Cast by the Holy Spirit into the inhabitable, the humanity of Christ came to the forefront: serenity was assaulted by the demands of survival; and the experience of time (past, present, and future) collapsed into the terrible eternity of hot miserable seconds, minutes, and hours—the difference between which may have been impossible to tell.
As Christ struggled in the desert with the limitations of mortal flesh, so too Christ faced spiritual struggles. And isn’t that the way it so often goes? Just when you’re having a hard time with the things of humanity, the spirit gets assaulted too. For Christ, it was by the presence of the devil—that old tempter and accuser—who saw a moment to seduce Christ to the pleasures and powers of a life centered on self over all others.
And so it was that Christ struggled with flesh and spirit during his forty days in the desert.
But that’s what you do in the desert and wilderness—you struggle with the things of God and humanity, and you become transformed. Just like in the Book of Genesis, when Jacob wrestled in a desert with a nameless being, but left transformed, blessed and renamed as Israel—even if he left limping. And in the Book of Exodus, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, wrestling with their doubt, their faith, their arrogance, their humility, their idolatry, and their worship of God.
And so, that we find Christ in the desert is not surprising. Deserts are where God’s people go. Deserts are difficult, and yet, they can be holy places. In unexpected ways they can be holy, because in them we come face to face with the divine; face our demons–and, we can seek transformation from all of it.
In these forty days of Lent, we too are in a kind of desert. A place of wandering and wrestling. In these forty days we will hear again a difficult story of what led Jesus to his death; a story that asks us to turn around and follow him: to kneel with Christ, to shoulder a burdensome cross. We too will wrestle in this desert with the voice of the tempter; the voice of God, and our own. But with faith, and held by grace, we will leave this Lenten desert transformed, holy, and hopefully: manifesting in ourselves the glory of the reign of God.
Reflection by: The Rev. Dr. Richard McCarty
Artwork: “Christ in the Wilderness – The Scorpion,” by Stanley Spencer