Christ Centered Resources

Driven ... tempted ... and fed

Rev. Ed Searcy

Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15
University Hill United Church : Sun, March 12, 2000
Driven. The word jumps off the page. Jesus is driven into the wilderness. Jesus ... driven into temptation. There's no doubt about it. It is the same in every translation. Oh, according to Matthew and to Luke Jesus is 'led' into the wilderness ... but not here. Not in Mark's telling of the story. No, Mark says that there is no turning back for Jesus after the Jordan ... no chance of avoiding the no-man's land across the border. That's what the wilderness is, remember. It is not a place of quiet meditation ... there is no cabin in the woods where Jesus 'gets away from it all'! The wilderness is full of danger ... home to wild beasts ... a place of terror. Out there, out beyond the safety of the Jordan, you might get lost ... you might lose your faith ... and your life. Here, in the heart of a modern city we can soon forget how dangerous ... and how near ... the wilderness is. Watching 'Super Natural British Columbia' on those television ads makes it all look so inviting. But, then, a young women gets lost on Cypress Bowl ... and dies of hypothermia. Lost ... in the wilderness. And not just over that ridge of mountains, either. The wilderness is much closer than that. Ask the student struggling to survive the wild beasts of depression and despair ... the beasts that claim too many victims, victims who have gone searching for meaning and purpose here ... in the wilderness. Or ask an elder, a senior ... one who has lived long enough to know more than most of us how close the wilderness always is. They have been mauled by sudden tragedy, starved by lingering grief, beaten down by long dry spells of lovelessness and loneliness. We may not like admitting it ... and we sure don't care to advertise it ... but we know full well that, on the other side of this font of living water there often lies more arid wilderness than green pastures and still waters. Maybe it is good ... even right ... that Jesus is driven into the wilderness. He, too, must enter the wilderness and confront the wild beasts. For, if he comes back alive ... if he endures the valley of the shadow that lies out there ... then he will have earned the right to speak with the authority of experience. Driven into the wilderness by the Spirit ... driven into danger, by God. He has no choice. He must go. Tempted. He is tempted out there in the wilderness. Well, actually, a more accurate translation of the Greek word 'peirazo' might be 'tested'. Jesus is not so much tempted to do wrong as he is tested to endure. Tested. Jesus is tested by Satan ... not a devil all dressed in red with pitchfork in hand and flames licking at his heels. No, Jesus is questioned by God's very own prosecuting attorney ... the original 'devil's advocate', so to speak. He asks all the hard questions ... questions we know only too well. Remember that famous chapter in Dostoyevsky ... or perhaps you didn't take Arts One and could use a quick refresher. Here it is ... Brothers Karamazov, volume one, part two, book five, chapter five: 'The Grand Inquisitor'. That most famous of scenes in western literature in which Jesus himself is arrested and detained by the Spanish Inquisition. Jesus, quesioned in his jail cell by the accusing inquisitor out to prove him a heretic. An inquisitor who belittles Jesus for so foolishly rejecting Satan's urgings to accept power and authority as his right. The church, boasts the inquisitor, "has corrected your great work" and built a great edifice precisely by accepting the devil's terms. The church, Dostoyevsky knows, achieves its power and authority by making a deal with the devil. It uses the measures of success - dollars and numbers and influence - to judge its progress as an institution. It forgets altogether the measures of faithfulness - endurance and sacrifice and risk - to judge its constancy as the living Body of Christ. But there are other trials and temptations, too. In the book 'The Last Temptation of Christ', Nicos Kazantzakis suggests a different temptation ... another test. Kazantzakis imagines Jesus tempted by the lure of anonymity. He sees Jesus longing for family ... for children ... and, most especially, for no cross on the horizon. Anonymity. No more rocking the boat. A life of comfort and of ease. It sounds a little too familiar for our liking. We know what it means to be tested like this. God knows, we'd rather not get too inolved ... rather sit quietly by and watch as another carries the cross ... rather accept the title 'Anonymous'. Jesus is not alone in facing the tempter - the tester - in the wilderness. We are there, too. And not only in the forty days of Lent. Lent is but a reminder of the lifelong season which always confronts us with questions that threaten to distort, and to destroy, our trust in God. Life, like Lent, is a test, a trial, an ordeal ... and Jesus cannot escape the test. Thank God, he is not alone. Thank heavens, he is fed. Did you notice? According to Mark there is no fasting for Jesus out there in the wilderness. Did you hear it? "...and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him". The angels waited on him. Here we have been imagining a terrifying, hostile, horrible journey full of danger and risk ... but we have been forgetting the waiters serving up their plates of manna. Jesus is not alone in the wilderness. Nor does he go hungry. This is a different Lenten journey than we expected to discover. We were ready for sackcloth and ashes, for fasting and prayer ... but not for angelic waiters serving up a heavenly banquet! The wilderness is not only the place where Jesus confronts the greatest challenge to his trust in God ... it is at the same time the place where he discovers that he can live out of trust in God. Remember Noah and the ark. Forty days of trial. Forty days of waiting for a sprig of hope in the beak of a dove. Forty days, trusting in the promise of God. Remember the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Forty years of trial. Forty years of waiting for the Promised Land of milk and honey. Forty years, trusting in the promise of God. Now Jesus ... living for forty days in the wilderness by the grace of God. Do you see? The wilderness is not only a place of great danger ... it is also the home of great faith and hope. Out here in the wilderness we come upon a table of food ... bread and wine, served up by a company of angels. In the midst of our great grief over loss ... or our great despair at life ... or our great worry about the earth and its people ... we discover an oasis of hope. And when God's angels provide manna out in this God forsaken wilderness ... well, then it isn't God forsaken anymore, is it! No wonder Jesus heads back across the Jordan telling anyone who will listen that "the time has arrived ... God's promise is near at hand, turn and trust the good news". Can we do any other? Leaving the table of reconciliation, going home from this taste of the Holy in the midst of the wilderness, we carry the news ... the news that God is near. As near as the wilderness.