“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,
and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.
He was with the wild animals
and the angels attended him. (Mark 1:12,13)”
Deserts!! Now there is a topic. We started our missionary career in a former famine relief camp in northern Kenya on the edge of the Chaldi desert. I used to say, “I come from the freeways of Los Angeles,” to answer questions about my home and to emphasize the culture shock I was going through. Deserts are very different from urban settings or rural settings. Water and supplies are scarce. But that was the home of the people we were establishing an alphabet for and giving an opportunity for literacy. I wonder what the desert experience taught Jesus and what those desert times might teach us?
A subtly shocking entrance to our desert life was that the language had no word for “please.” People came to the door and said, “Give me.” There was no shame or guilt in asking for help because people lived by community ties. A warrior would start a day foot trip to cross the desert with only his spear and no supplies. He knew the person on the other end was obligated to offer hospitality – kill a goat. Jesus was forty days alone in the desert and the presence of Satan must have offered community – of a sort, at least conversation. Satan chatted with him and “suggested” he use his supernatural powers to short circuit the discomfort of the desert experience. Community can support but community can also distract!
We thrive on community that dispels aloneness, offers support, and affirms us. How tempting to be recognized as true God by Satan. How tempting to be “wanted” by friends. Loneliness hurts. Sheltering to avoid illness seems very unnatural right now and many refuse to follow the guidelines of social distancing. We sit with TVs and zoom meetings but somehow it feels less than satisfying, less than a hug. So I reflect on where we find community now. What drives us to go to a neighbor’s door and beg a cup of sugar or a glass of water because of drought and famine?
The desert experience affirms to me that Jesus, true God and true man, who lived his life swarmed by people wanting healing or wanting to test him, that same Jesus also had an extended time alone in a desert, cut off from human support systems. Matthew and Luke give more texture to this experience. Turning rocks to bread – deserts test us physically as we hunger and nothing seems to satisfy. Jump from the temple – deserts test our sense of safety and protection for surely the God of the universe could prevent us from getting hurt. Avoid the cross and worship Satan – deserts test our resolve to do things properly and not short cut “the rules.”
Perhaps today, sheltering is wearing on your nerves and loneliness is knocking at your heart. Fears about the upcoming inauguration play on our sense of security. Doubts of love, fears about protection, and temptations to expediency keep coming to mind. Many are demanding that government, health systems, education systems and human organizations resolve the loneliness of deserts in our lives. Jesus, in his desert experience, found focus in the Word of God and so can we. We are never alone. Where will we turn today when we feel like we are in a desert? We need each other. May we like, Jesus, find comfort in the Word of God. And perhaps a call to a friend or an email someone to encourage! Blessings.