Today’s Word: ‘Déjà vu’ as in… it’s really easy to want to say, “Call me crazy, but I’m sure I’ve been here before!” while reading the ancient/once-and-future story of the temptation of Jesus.
The story recounted in Matthew 4:1-11 is certainly our story. Jesus is alone in the wilderness without his usual support system: food, water, social interaction with his community of family and friends, and a place to lay his head at night. The chances of Jesus becoming hungry, aggravated, lonely, and then tired of being tired, lonely, aggravated and hungry go up exponentially. But while common, this is also a complicated story. Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Alrighty then. Luke conveys the same thing but makes a long story super-short. Mark, whose prevailing ‘vibe’ is one of urgency, spins it this way: “the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” All three versions could easily leave us wondering about the intention of the Spirit. If we’re honest about our usual way of understanding this, with a friend like that, who needs enemies? Right? But let’s consider a different way of thinking about this. In each version of this story Jesus moves from what we’re calling “The River of Life” (his baptism in the Jordan) directly into “The Desert of Temptation.” And the Spirit is behind it all. But instead of viewing the Spirit’s presence as adversarial, as dragging Jesus kicking-and-screaming, could we rather understand the Spirit as simply and profoundly leading and guiding Jesus – along with the rest of us – through the once-and-ever-present-and-future Wilderness places of life? The Spirit’s presence with us in our Wilderness is a very present help in time of trouble, and not, as a misreading of the passage would lead us to believe, the source of the temptation. It’s as if Spirit says, “Hey, you’re going to need some help in this and every Wilderness place of your life. I’m going to be right here with you; right here with you all the way through it.