|Judean Wilderness, near Jerusalem, Israel, 2010|
Lectionary Passage: Mark 1: 9-12 (13-15)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Jesus was driven out into the wilderness. First he gets baptized and the Spirit descends upon him. He is claimed by the Spirit. And then the same Spirit that claims him somehow compels him to go out into the wilderness alone–no supplies, no map, no compass, no cell phone with that neat little GPS app. Driven out into the wilderness…You know, I used to think that I understood this wilderness thing. I used to picture Jesus going out into the wilderness, into the trees, into nature, to pray and commune with God. Perhaps my idea of a wilderness was somewhat skewed by visions of thick East Texas pine trees or perhaps the clammy sensation of the Costa Rican rainforest. After all, nature is always a great place to become closer to God.
And then I saw the Judean wilderness, the same wilderness into which Jesus was driven by the Spirit. I stood there on that mountain with a view of winds and sands and nothingness, the true depiction of forsakenness and despair. And, standing there, I thought about this image of Jesus going out into the wilderness. On purpose? He went on purpose? This is not a wilderness for the faint of heart and certainly not for one with such a faulty sense of direction as I seem to have. This wilderness has no trees, no real markings of any kind. The faint pathways change as the winds blow the sands wherever they want. Even if one began this wilderness journey with some faint sense of where he or she was headed, the pathway would move in an instant and the traveler would be stranded, vulnerable, with no real sense of direction at all.
So into this vulnerable state, Jesus was driven. If you read the passage, the Spirit claimed him at his baptism and then drove him into a journey that had no obvious pathway at all. The mere thought of it terrifies us. After all, don’t we do everything we can do to avoid the wilderness, to avoid a loss of control, a loss of our sense of direction, a loss of the knowledge of where we are and where we are going. But last I checked, the same Spirit supposedly descended on me as descended on Jesus. So am I to assume that that Spirit is now driving me into the wilderness? As one who was also baptized, who also had this same Spirit, am I being compelled to go beyond what I know? But, I will tell you, I did not plan for the wilderness. I do not have everything I need. I need to pack. I need to prepare. (I probably need new shoes!) And so I wait. But that baptism thing keeps tugging at us. You know, it’s not really meant to be a membership ritual. It is meant, rather, to be the driving force in our lives. It is the thing that drives us into the wilderness–if only we will go.
Contrary to the way most of us live our lives, faith is not certainty or knowledge. It is not, I’m afraid, a sure and unquestioning sense of where one is going, even, for us seemingly progressive theologians (because we are ALL theologians!), in a “big picture” way. It is not about being saved from something. Faith is not about learning or being shown the way. We are not given a map. It’s just not that clear. In fact, it’s downright murky, almost like sandy in the air. No, I think that faith is about entering The Way, being driven into the wilderness, where one is vulnerable, unprepared, and usually scared to death. And in that death, in that yielding, in that realization that we’re not really sure where it is we’re supposed to go, we encounter God. And then in the next instant, the winds will blow the path away and, once again, we are in darkness until we realize that God is still there, not pointing to show us, but walking with us.
Every Lenten season we read of the wilderness into which Jesus was driven. It is the affirmation that Jesus was not a superhero or a star of Survivor. Rather, Jesus was driven into the deepest depths of human frailty and vulnerability and, unsure of where to go, found God. Wandering the wilderness is not about finding your way but rather being open and vulnerable enough that The Way will find you.
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,