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 the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. –Mark 1: 10, 12-13

This story hits three major points in just a few verses: Jesus’ baptism, the wilderness and temptation, and the testimony that calls for repentance. Even in just 8 verses of Mark’s gospel, these still seem to be discreet stories; three separate movements of Jesus’ ministry. But together, these three provide a necessary schema: a paradigm for us all to follow in our own lived discipleship. In baptism, we remember that God knows us. In witnessing, we show that we know God. But that middle step, that wilderness time; that is crucial, for in it we come to know ourselves: the selves that God knows, and loves. Through that knowledge, we come to  know better the God to whom we are called to witness.

2048px-Edward_Hicks_-_Peaceable_Kingdom

Edward Hicks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If we were to go directly from God’s powerful love out into public, out into testimony, we would go without fully understanding who or what it truly is that God loves enough to tear apart the firmament, to reach down through the heavens. We need to understand the full power of God’s grace before we try to bear witness to its impact on our lives and on the world around us.

Mark tells us little, here; this gospel writer takes a couple sentences to tell the stories that other gospel writers spend paragraphs on. We are used to hearing more narrative around this wilderness time – details that Matthew and Luke provide in abundance. But I wonder if we don’t need Mark’s brevity, his lack of detail, in order to make this story resonate more clearly in our own lives? I wonder if it isn’t good for us, to be left wanting more, if the lack of detail doesn’t push us to imagine for ourselves  what the temptation might have looked like? Does Mark’s bare narrative encourage us to imagine what it would be like to experience that solitude, that wilderness among the angels and the beasts; the love that the fears that inhabit us all?

When we are alone, when we are in wilderness times – when we are thrown into vulnerability and uncertainty – what prowls around, seeking to feed on us? What sustains us in nurture? And what are the temptations that pull at our hearts?

This week, as happens all too often, we are thrown again into the wilderness, into the desolation of despair as seventeen more lives were lost on a day when we as Christians were called to contemplate our own return to dust and ash. This week, we, too were placed among the wild beasts. We were placed as prey among predators: those who would pull us apart one little bite at a time. We were placed, all of us raw and wounded, before a prowling pack, and we found ourselves staring at the curved claws of anger, at the pointed teeth of violence, at the strong jaws of fear. We looked directly into the predatory eyes of  a culture built on anger, and self-interest; on power and weaponized violence.  And even we, who know ourselves beloved; even we, who understand God’s love and God’s grace for all of creation, felt the tempting pull of the fictitious safety that human power and weaponry promise. We felt the tempting pull of repaying violence with violence; of dehumanizing, of demonizing those of God’s beloved who commit acts of violence, those of God’s beloved whose response to the wilderness is not ours. Even we, who profess God’s love poured out upon us all feel, in times like this, the tempting pull of turning away from love in the name of individual freedom and security.

This week, as happens all too often, we who are God’s beloved have been put into this story of wilderness and temptation. We have found ourselves among beasts and angels. We have been face to face with the tempter, and in our responses, we have borne witness to the gods that we worship.

Jesus, cast out into the wilds beyond the Jordan – beyond even the wilderness where John was baptizing the people of Judea – came face to face with his own beasts: his own temptations about how to respond in the face of fear, in the face of possible violence. Jesus, in vulnerable solitude, likely heard the same tempting whispers that we ourselves have come to know: the ones that urged the security of the preemptive strike, the ones that suggested the safety of being the most powerful. Jesus, as human as any one of us, stood alone among the beasts, tempted. It is a story we find familiar, this week especially.

But Jesus saw what we so often neglect: the angels. Literally, these are the messengers of God, of the gospel – not necessarily the winged humans of renaissance paintings, but the presence of love, of grace, of humility, of compassion made tangible before him. Or before us.

We don’t know, from Mark’s account, what happened in that wilderness encounter when Jesus stood alone between the predators and the Good News of God. We don’t really know what Jesus saw, looking into the eyes of the beasts. We don’t really know what the temptations were, or about the specific nurture of God’s messengers in that moment. All we know is the response to that wilderness time was the witness to the imminence of God’s kin-dom, and the call to repent: to turn our hearts to the God whose love endures even wilderness predators.

What does our witness say of us? we, who are confronted with beasts; we, who hear the whispers of the tempter; we, who know the nurture of angels? What is our witness, as we emerge from this wilderness time, from our latest confrontation with violence, from our temptations to fear and human forms of security?

What is our witness as those who have been fully known, as those who have been called God’s beloved, as those who have been guided and kept by God’s Holy Spirit? What is our witness, to our friends and our families, on email and facebook and twitter?  What is our witness to our senators and representatives? What is our witness, to our communities, to our teachers, to our children? Is it our acquiescence to the power of the predators? Is it the temptation of dominance, of fighting violence with violence, death with death?

Or shall we emerge from the wilderness sustained by angels, testifying and bearing witness to the good news that the kin-dom of God is near, if we but turn our hearts. The kin-dom of God is near, where predators will lose their power and prey their fear, where the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and seventeen children shall finally lead us.

Advertisements