Right after Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit leads him out into the desert wilderness for forty days of fasting and solitude.
At the end of his wilderness time, the Great Tempter appears and offers Jesus an easy way out, or at least short-term relief, from his desert hardships.Many of you know this story well.
In the end, Jesus resists the devil’s empty promises for food, for physical safety, and for power, tells Satan to hit the road and reiterates his commitment to worship and serve the Lord. For Christians who mark time with the ancient calendar of the church, this is the first story we hear about Jesus during Lent.
Back on March 1, when I preached about this Gospel story, I had heard just enough about Covid-19 to scrub my hands before church and after shaking everyone’s hand at the door on their way out. Though it was only a few weeks ago, that feels like a different era.
Over the last week I’ve been thinking a lot about this Gospel story and wilderness time we’ve entered into largely against our will.
The wilderness is a place of uncertainty and of physical threat. The wilderness is a place that reveals aspects of ourselves that we prefer to hide or cover over with manners and social graces in normal times.
The wilderness confronts us time and time again with our limitations. This confrontation with our limits can bring out the best in us or the worst.
As we enter into this wilderness time, I wonder what temptations you’ve encountered. Here are the four that I’ve noticed most prominently:
The temptation to hoard. What would it be like to feel secure emotionally with the two-week supply of basic nutrition items?
The temptation to “fix,” to be the savior. I have found myself falling into the trap of just working extra hard in an effort to prevent myself (and my flock) from having to deal with the legitimate feelings of fear, anger and grief instead of trusting that God is in the midst of those hard feelings, too.
The temptation to despair. This one doesn’t need much explanation.
The temptation to view others with suspicion and fear. When we are baptized, part of our Covenant is to “seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Seeking and serving Christ in all people is quite a challenge even in normal times. These days it is tempting to reduce human beings, especially strangers, to potential virus vectors instead of seeking and serving Christ in them.
Naming the temptations we face, though, seems helpful because it gives us more of an opportunity to choose how we’ll respond. Because we are not Jesus, sometimes we’ll be able to resist these temptations and sometimes they’ll get the best of us.
And when they do, God-willing I’ll notice enough to ask forgiveness and take another step in the wilderness journey, praying that we’ll persevere with as much courage and grace as our hearts can hold.
Joslyn Schaefer is the rector at Grace in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Waynesville.