Why Christ Needed the Wilderness (& So Do We)
He was tired and hungry. Why wouldn’t he be? After all, he had been traipsing around in this desert place – this wilderness – for who knows how long? Days… Weeks, even. It had been a time of focus, of resolution, of preparation. It had to be. He needed to feel isolated from his parents and friends. He had to endure the raw elements of the wild. He must endure the biting hunger from his fasts. For this isolation, these harsh elements, this hunger would only be a foretaste of the Cross that awaited him.
It was dizzying to consider where he had been just days ago. Walking gladly into the Jordan, the swirling cool water (water…) enveloping him, as he approached his cousin, John. John (St. John!) knew him for who he really is. It was John who questioned if it was even proper that a lowly, disheveled prophet should baptize the Spotless One. Yes, it must be done.
And then there was The Moment.
The heavens opened, the Spirit descended and the Voice of the Father was heard. Affirming. Reassuring. Anointing.
Peace. It was utter Peace.
But now, Jesus heard another voice. And suddenly, the bitter wind, the tearing thorns, the gnawing ache deep in his stomach returned with a vengeance. With this voice, he was sharply thrust back into the desert.
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
Surely, you have sacrificed enough, the voice excused. A man has to eat! It is a trifling act toward a good end. Eat. Break your fast. Sate your appetite. Allow yourself some pleasure. You deserve it.
But the God-man responded,
“It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”
In a moment, still reeling from the vanishing, unreachable image of bread, he found himself standing atop a perilous Temple parapet.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you’
and ‘with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Clearly, the Tempter assured, the Scripture itself tells us of your power. Show me. Prove yourself. Humble me with your might. Go on, do it. Do it.
But the Christ answered,
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
And then the Great Deceiver sought to stun him. From the poor, lowly, undignified Galilean slum, you can have all of this: kingdom upon kingdom pledging proud and triumphant allegiance to you. Imagine the limitless wealth! Consider the boundless honor! Isn’t that what you deserve? Isn’t that the kind of faithfulness you seek? Isn’t that only fitting for the King that you are? There is no need to suffer for these people when you can own them, possess their wealth and bask in their accolades… and it is all yours for one small, inconsequential price.
“All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
And the Son of God replied,
“Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.’”
And with that, he was gone. The Soother. The Sweet-Talker. The Black Demon. The Father of Lies. Gone. The one who offered Jesus bread if he would only break his faithful fast to God. The one who offered him the exercise of power if only Jesus would use his Divine Gifts for prideful, self-serving purposes. The one who offered him worldly honor and counterfeit wealth if only Jesus would call Satan “Father”. The Devil offered it all: Pleasure, Power, Wealth and Honor.
And Christ said no. He chose God.
Yes. Satan was gone. For now.
But he would be back in naked fury during the Passion of the Christ. He would be palpably present in the Agony in the Garden and the betrayal by Christ’s disciples. Satan would be found glorying in the taunts, the lacerating Crown of Thorns, each punch, every whipping, each stumble under the Cross’s weight, all of the piercings and, finally, the suffocating cry of agony and despair as the Prince of Peace gazed heavenward and asked where his Father was.
And then, peace. It was finished.
Now, when you think about it – I mean really think about it – wasn’t this Act – Christ’s redemptive suffering and saving Grace – what the wilderness was for? Wasn’t the time of testing and trial, sacrifice and solitude essential for Christ to prepare for his greater Calling? And like his time in the wilderness tempted by the Devil, weren’t those other mysterious moments where he withdrew to pray, withdrew to a desert place, or separated himself during his Agony in the Garden indispensable to saying “no” to worldly pleasure, power, wealth and honor and saying “yes” to his redemptive suffering and Grace-filled death on the cross? In essence, didn’t the wilderness enhance Christ’s strength of purpose and clarity of call?
Yes. I think so.
Christ needed the wilderness. And do you know what?
So do we.
May we all have a blessed and holy Lent.