Thursday, March 6th, 2014 – The First Thursday in Lent
Jesus, John, and the Desert
In all the Gospels save for John’s, Jesus is baptized to considerable fanfare on earth and from Heaven. A voice from above cries out through the wilderness that this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, is the beloved Son of God and that God is well pleased with Him. A dove even alights. One can imagine that John the Baptist is both pleased and stunned by the raw truth the voice confers on John’s prior announcements. At this moment, I picture the Baptizer sitting down, but involuntarily; collapsing, really, into a sitting position. This is the moment when he realizes there is no turning back. What John has hoped, what he has heard, what he has believed, now…just is.
The journey of Jesus into Life will go through the valley of Death.
John has come from this place to which the Spirit is leading Jesus. John knows the ways of the desert, the things that go through a person’s mind when forced to live among the infernal intensity of rocks in a sea of absence. He knows that this experience sears into a man the notion that God alone can come to us when no other animate thing feels present. John knows what Jesus will experience and how He will survive. He even knows the why of it, as far as any man can know it. What John wonders at this moment is what kind of man this will make Jesus. John knows what it did to him: the desert’s heat forged a man who was relentless and unyielding, but it also confirmed for him that he was no lover of souls. He was purged of any need to comfort or soothe. His spirit is inflexible now: it will break but never bend.
John knows his thin-end-of-the-wedge place in the kingdom is meant to lacerate the hypocrisy of people, to open up a wound whose healing can only be accomplished by the salve of a Savior’s promise. He also knows that promise had to be made to people whose running from the deserts of life injured them more than being in the desert itself. The wilderness had hardened John; how could that environment make Jesus more supple?
John gets his answer. “Are you the One who is to come or are we to await another?” John asks from prison. Jesus replies by pointing to the wounds He is binding. The desert sun has hardened John’s heart; The Son in the desert has let it melt any hardness in his.
And so it is for each of us: the same ingredients designed to accomplish something in one person can be designed by the Spirit to do the opposite in another. Jesus and John learn this while in the desert, following.
Question for today: Do I believe God is using my current circumstance to shape me into the creature that both God and I want to become?
– Christopher Powell