Scripture for the first Sunday of Lent:
Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-11; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13
It seems to be easier than one might imagine to find oneself lost in a wilderness place, even in Menorca. Sometimes the fields look very similar, the olive scrub obscures the horizon and the stone walls are large and uncomfortable to climb.
That begs the questions: what is a wilderness? One answer is: a place where we have to reconsider where we have come from and where we are going. This week’s readings, in different ways, address those questions.
Moses instructed the people of Israel to present the first fruits of the promised land to God, to remind them that it was God who sustained them through the wilderness, and God who continued to sustain them in their lives in the land of milk and honey. They were also instructed to keep alive the story of God’s sustaining presence. This was especially important as they had to learn to change from being nomadic wanderers to being settled people.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, celebrated the saving power and sustaining grace of God across peoples and generations, and reminded his readers that God is ever-present with them. Addressing questions pertinent to reconciliation of Jewish and Gentile Christians, we basically told them that one can come to Christ from many different directions, and all have value and validity.
Jesus was led into the wilderness, where his spiritually cathartic resistance to temptations set the seal upon his life’s ministry. The temptations can seem reasonable: feeding the hungry, grabbing attention for an important message, taking control over a sinful and broken world. These “reasonable” goals become distorted when pursued for selfish ends or aggrandisement, when rather than pursuing God’s will in God’s time, we supplant it with a version of what we think God’s will ought to be.
In fact, Jesus accomplished such goals, but not by submitting to the ultimate temptation to replace God’s will with a human agenda. He fed people – both spiritually, and when it was appropriate, physically. His life’s ministry was pursued with a clear underpinning of God’s shalom, or justice, peace and hope. And he needed no safety net of angels to demonstrate that God’s will for life trumped those who tried to extinguish Jesus’ message through death.
In our own journeys, do we appreciate wilderness opportunities to examine our origins and our destinations? Are we sufficiently thankful for experience that has shaped us – even the difficult or sad times when we actually learn how to cope with suffering in our own lives and those of others? Are we willing to submit to God’s will, rather than trying to replace it with our agenda?
Sometimes, it’s only when we are lost that we stop to ask ourselves those questions, to look at where we have been and ponder where we are going – and open ourselves to change and transformation.