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Wilderness Encounter

The devil did not make him do it! No, it was not the Evil One who put Jesus on the path to the wilderness. Imagine the scene in this gospel story. Listen beyond the hissing sun and the howl of silence while you contend with this detail: It wasn’t the devil’s hand that tugged Jesus into the wilderness. No, it was not the diabolical villain of Eden’s paradise nor the conniving accuser in Job’s tragic saga that took him to taste loneliness and hunger. It was the Spirit! (Luke 4:1).

In a seemingly wretched epilogue to the grand scene by the river, Jesus, clean from the water of his baptism in the Jordan, goes to the wilderness. And yes, no surprise, in the wilderness the devil, the Great Deceiver, arrives with an unholy trinity of deceptions that offer nothing more to a hungry world than scraps that will not do. The Deceiver offers nothing more for empty lives than knock-off royal pedigrees that are cruel illusions, nothing more for unsteady nerves and faint hearts than a mockery of faith that bears no truth.

But the Spirit is there too, in this seemingly desolate place. There Jesus, the beloved Son, claims for himself more than name and ancestry; he reveals for us the holy work of God’s mysterious Spirit. The same Spirit that descended on him at his baptism sustained him in the wilderness, and that very Spirit is wildly, graciously, probingly loose in the church and in the world today.

In our own wildernesses, where faith and doubt often collide, we can be sure that Jesus goes with us. The one who was led, accompanied, and followed by the Spirit in the wilderness surely does not abandon us to our doubts and fears. In places we are deeply afraid to go, Jesus waits for us with bread for the journey in his wounded hands.

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, 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.

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