people at the edge of his pain
JesusIn the wilderness, from the edge towards suffering
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.' 4 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, "One does not live by bread alone." '
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.' 8 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." '
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you", 11 and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone." '
12 Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." ' 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
On the first Sunday of Lent the Church has traditionally focused upon Jesus' temptations in the wilderness. Here Jesus ponders the different paths that he might take in his ministry, knowing that the only path which he will tread will lead him to Jerusalem, to the cross and to suffering. Here Jesus stands at the threshold of his ministry; Jesus himself is on the edge of his pain.
This story is traditionally seen as a preparation for the ministry that was to lie ahead, but it also looks firmly towards the cross and the resurrection. Jesus eschews the path offered by Satan and embraces what, in worldly terms, is weak and illogical.
In his great novel The Brothers Karamazov the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky includes a parable where Jesus, who has returned to earth, is confronted by the Grand Inquisitor, who tells Jesus that he made the wrong choices when he was in the desert - he ought to have turned the stones into bread, he should have thrown himself off the pinnacle of the temple and he should have taken the opportunity to be king of all the nations of the earth. The choices were wrong because he had misunderstood human nature - human beings are not able to handle the freedom which he gave them.
Some years prior to his writing this novel, Dostoevsky famously said: "If someone were to prove to me that Christ was outside the truth, and it was really the case that the truth lay outside Christ, then I should choose to stay with Christ rather than with the truth." In this Lenten season we are invited to travel a path with Christ that seems to the world illogical, weak and foolish. We step outside of theworld's ‘truth' into the possibilities of life in Christ. As we travel we will encounter some of the people on the edge of Christ's pain. And we are invited to ponder our own responses, on the edge of His pain.
"I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek (or should we say in English, in Bantu and in Afrikaans?) at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmanship should be about."
George F. MacLeod
It is difficult to put ourselves into the shoes of the Biblical characters - and most of all of Jesus himself. Each week there is a short monologue whose purpose is to help us do just that - to think about the character of the person and relate that person to our own time, culture and place.
It has been so liberating... this stay in the wilderness. In spite of all the temptations overcome, I have found freedom. Freedom for my ministry. I have had to consider what I should leave behind. But first remember that freedom from... is freedom for - it is doing what is contrary to natural expectations. The evil one expected me to accept the offer of power and status. But prayer has given me clarity. We don't pray to change God, we pray to change ourselves. Every day and every time we stop and enter into prayer we set about changing ourselves - what have I done, what ought I to do?
The world of power and status has been left behind and I'm seeing beyond judgment right through to forgiveness. I know where this path leads and I fear for those of my family and friends who will be damaged by it.
I must remain focused on my ministry in the service of my Father. Everything else has been stripped away... All that is left is trust. I know that all eyes will be fi xed on me. There are so many expectations. Abba, it is not what I do that counts most, it is how I trust. When all of the distractions and attachments are taken away, it's not what you do or don't do, it's about trust and intention, why you do it. Here in the wilderness is a purifying of all that is unimportant. Being here is living as though an encounter with God is unavoidable. And it is.
But soon I must move on, move on to the way of the cross. I must remember that the God centred life has to be as much a journey towards perfection as it is a desire for salvation. My ministry is about restoring every person, all creation, to the original perfect state of the Father's intention, but fi rst we must endure much together.
Regardless of where we live or what we do, the wilderness has to be about a vocation of creativity and love. It can never be about blind obedience to a duty which leads in the end to thirst and emptiness. On the road I will meet my heavenly Father in many people. I hope I can heal many and bring joy. You never know where Grace is...
- Lent is traditionally a time of fasting and inward reflection. How are you planning to navigate your journey through this Lenten time?
- Lent is also a time when we try to think more deeply about our faith and how we live it: Reflecting on our Gospel reading, what are the implications for our faith of following Christ and not the world?
- Have you ever been in a wilderness? What kind of vulnerabilities emerged when you were there?
- What kind of vulnerabilities might Jesus have experienced?
Lead us into the depths of your wilderness
Free us from everything that distracts from your way
Free us for life with you in this wilderness place
Free us to live and love and become fully what you want us to be
Fix our eyes on your path
Restoring every person
Restoring all creation
Serving others as you served us. Amen
Scripture taken from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.