"Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit." Luke 4.14
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”--Mark 1.15
I figured we could do a little Q&A on Jesus in the wilderness today, as we look for clues as to what our seasons of transition, our journeys in transformation are meant to do for us. I've heard my mentor say from time to time, "God leads us into the wilderness for revelation, and ushers us into the Promise Land for possession."
Why does the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness?
If you missed "the gate of heaven is everywhere" then you will want to read it since my reply here will not make sense without it.
Why does the caterpillar go into the cocoon? To become what it is. Why does a student go into medical school? To become who she is. Why does Israel go into the wilderness? To become the nation God is calling it to be. Why does Jesus go into the wilderness? Jesus goes into the wilderness to become who he is. We see the full expression of this in noting the differences in the pre-wilderness Jesus and the post-wilderness Jesus.
The baptismal-water revealed Jesus' identity, but the wilderness reveals Jesus mission in the light of that identity. The one speaks about who he is the other about how he lives. The three environments--barren wilderness (scarcity), platform of a crowded temple (illegitimacy), and a glorious empire summit (inconsequentiality)--provide three settings for God's kingdom to be contrasted with human systems, constructs and empires. Jesus, mentored by the Spirit, responds to the three propositions and another kingdom emerges. A kingdom that is not are built on bread-making, brokered through temple-pleasing, and ascended through a game of thrones exposes the the kingdom that are dependent on such as temporal, shallow, and empty. Jesus' transformation in the wilderness was a transformation of reality.
For example, in the first test, we see the world as a kingdom trudging along in the unchallenged hypnosis of consumerism and productivity, under the blind assumption that "making bread of stones" and feeding the "hunger" is what is real. But Jesus exposes this as an illusion by choosing the Voice over the hypnosis, and when he does he see a different kingdom, heavenly, godly, eternal and all within the now.
The wilderness then reveals the mission: To bring awareness of the Kingdom of God and help people become citizens of the Kingdom of God.
What I am suggesting here is that just as the Holy Spirit mentored Jesus into identity, the Holy Spirit then mentored Jesus into mission. Only in the light of who he was could he understand what he was to do. And it was in this dance of being in the waters (identity) and becoming in the wilderness (transformation) that he came to doing (mission) in the world. The Kingdom of God was revealed in the contrast of everything Satan offered.
What Kingdom message does Jesus experience and then give voice to?
“The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”--Mark 1.15
Through the years I have preached from the lectionary, preached catchy sermon series, and preached exegetically through the Bible. I can tell you from experience by far the most transformative sermons are not sermons, but messages that God through the fire of experiences and the transformative work of his Spirit had worked in me. I'm saying anyone with public speaking skills can preach a sermon, but a message is something only those transformed by God in the wilderness can give and share.
Jesus walks straight out of the wilderness with a message! He's not studying for a sermon, prepping for a lecture, researching a topic, exegeting the Hebrew Scripture, at least not at this point. He has experienced the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit revealed to him the Kingdom of God vis-a-vis the kingdoms of the world, and this was good news! Notice Jesus' Gospel, at this point, is not "death, burial and resurrection" it's Kingdom, God's Kingdom.
So what was the kingdom message? Whatever it was it was something he had just experienced, something that had transformed him.
Rene Girard, who will go down as one of the greatest philosophers and thinker of our time, said, "when you are with the crowd you are possessed by the crowd. The Gospels show us from an anthropological perspective that the crowd spirit is a real power on earth, a force, that conquers even Peter when he betrays Jesus." The Good News gives us power over the crowd, over the mimetic forces, so that we can self-differentiate from the crowd into our true selves.
-Jesus' cultural and societal news, his crowd noise, was fear-based and said scarcity in one's life was a sign of being orphaned from God. If one was not able to satiate his appetites he was cursed to unhappiness. The myth was if I can have whatever I want then I am really God's son. The good news of the Kingdom was the Voice is the sign of sonship in God, and we already have the Voice. The sons of God live by whatever the Voice declares, not by making bread. This is the equivalent of the old proverb, "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime." Jesus is saying the Voice sustains for a lifetime, turning stones into bread sustains for a day.
-The cultural and societal norms of Jesus' day claimed that one's notoriety validated and legitimated one's worth and proved God's blessing. That is, if one was forgotten in obscurity or unapproved of by the Religious Elite and the Temple faithful God's blessing must be absent. Jesus exposes the Kingdom of God as a kingdom above these laws and demands, it just does not follow these norms and expectations. It's such good news because it declares God's blessing booms from his voice, and satiates us deep within, and we know because it's in us crying out, "Abba Father!" The religious icons and cultural gods can never give us the worth that we already possess in our heart with God.
Ethnic voices and national masses of the day had only one paradigm for freedom, promise and eschatology and that was world domination. This societal bent demanded that a nation needed become the world power and only then would it be free. The way to be a person of consequence was to deliver your people from the occupational forces of Rome, deliver your people from the invading terrorist groups, wrest the power from the powerful and then freedom would be won. In the moment of Jesus' face off against Satan he exposed political power, imperial power, economic power, cultural power, military power as an empty and temporal sham. The real power, the power that lasts beyond here and now, and yet is here and now, is the Kingdom of God, the power of the Spirit. And the good news is you don't have to overthrow Rome, Communism, Democracy, or a Monarchy to finally have it. The Kingdom of God is now, here or as he will preach, "within you."
THE FOUR GESTURES
Reflection. What stuck out to you in the reading?
Prayer. Offer a gratitude for how the Gospel has changed your way of looking at the world, overcoming the world, and engaging the Kingdom.
Conversation. Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.