Sunday 21 February Lent 1
full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in
This is Jesus’ own question to the crowds. It is worth asking what Jesus himself expected when he went into the wilderness, full of the Holy Spirit - to learn perhaps what we may expect in the 40 days of Lent or in the silence of retreat.
seems to have been on his mind – in his meditation – was the book
Deuteronomy; at least this is what he quotes to resist the temptations of the
devil – Deuteronomy, the compendium of the Law, touchstone of Israel’s
status as the nation beloved of God and a part of which was read at Mattins this
morning. We may imagine Jesus turning over in his mind and prayers the Exodus: -
“we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors and the Lord heard our voice
and saw our affliction … [and] brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand”.
the Lord in his own day see Israel’s affliction and save them and give them
the land of their promise? How would the Lord accomplish this?
the question on Jesus’ mind in the wilderness was about his own calling, then
understanding this demanded a wider vision of God’s purposes. What we find is
that the 40 days in the wilderness gave Jesus this vision and a new orientation.
To see what this was, we can compare the before and the after.
the 40 days we do not learn much in scripture of the adult Jesus but where we
meet him, he is in the company of John the baptiser, already on the edge of the
wilderness. Jesus seems to have been party to John’s movement to renew Israel,
to ready the people for God’s coming to save. The message was, “Repent!”
John’s ministry called the people to come together out of the villages and it
cleansed them from their unfaithfulness to the Law. They were to stand prepared
for God by doing acts of righteousness: ‘be satisfied with your wages, do no
extortion, share with those who have none.’
was a ministry to galvanise Israel as the people who were given the pledge of
the Law - in readiness for God’s action, God’s judgement. Its mark was
baptism and its slogan, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This
was the John-movement of national moral restoration with which Jesus was
associated. Then he went into the wilderness.
do we find after that time? Jesus returns from the desert – again filled with
the power of the Spirit, as Luke puts it but not to do what John does, baptising
in the Jordan. Rather, he returns to Galilee. Jesus’ ministry is to people
where they are, in their homes and places of work. He travels, to the further
North, at Caesarea Philippi and Tyre on the coast, East into the debatable
territory of the Ten Towns and South to Jerusalem (3 times according to the 4th
gospel). Jesus’ ministry is one marked not by the wilderness but by human
settlement. He goes to find the Israel of God, wherever it is scattered, to the
in the wilderness was known as an ascetic, shunning easy living but Jesus,
moving among people in their daily lives, comes eating and drinking, as he says
of himself. John’s vision has been of coming judgment, of axe and fire and
winnowing fork. When Jesus teaches of the kingdom of God, his pictures are drawn
from a different register: feasting and weddings and abundant fishing. These are
Old Testament images of the final peaceable kingdom God makes with those who are
his own. They are images of well-being and of generosity.
mark of Jesus’ ministry, the typical act by which he is recognised, is not the
rinsing baptism of John but the healing touch for the many broken people who
throng to him. What Jesus proclaims is not fear but good news. As we heard in
previous weeks, on returning from the wilderness he first goes to his home town
at Nazareth and takes the Jubilee scroll of Isaiah and announces the year of the
Lord’ favour. Where John had prophesied what was yet to come and had prepared
the people for this, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.”
In place of John’s message of the coming judgment, Jesus says, “Yours is the
kingdom of God.”
wildly popular ministry in the villages of Galilee, indiscriminately sweeping up
sinners, tax collectors and all, does not look like the kingdom John expected.
So when in prison with mind tormented, John tries to understand what has become
of the message he has delivered; he sends to Jesus to ask, “Are you the
one?” Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard” –
healings and good news to the poor. This is the kingdom already come, not
striving in obedience to the Law.
if to emphasise the point, Luke goes on from there to relate the story of the
woman of sin who kisses Jesus’ feet and anoints them with her ointment. No
waiting for outward righteousness; the good news is already here. Those who love
much are those to whom much is forgiven.
Twodifferent visions of God’s good news – separated by Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Tested there, Jesus re-imagined the Exodus. The bread that satisfies; the power that sways kingdoms; the constancy of God’s love – these are not to be earned in the way many imagined the Law of Moses demanded. Much less are they to be grasped without effort in the self-centred and self-deluding way with which the Devil, the father of lies, tried to tempt Jesus. All that may be good news for human beings comes through God’s good gift.
Jesus found in the silence and clear spaces of the wilderness was this new
vision, the unshakeable love of God, ever-present and his own calling to be that
love before Israel and all the nations: - the bread of life, the kingdom not
like those of this world, the true sacrifice.
So, be careful – a time in the wilderness may instil this vision in you.