I recall sitting on the sofa next to a Jewish friend who’d just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She said: “What have I ever done to deserve this? Why is God punishing me?”
We’ve all had those experiences where things seemed to be going just fine, we knew what we were doing, where we were going – and we thought we knew what lay ahead - but then, out of the blue we’re sideswiped by an unexpected event or dramatic change in direction. The things we thought were sure and solid suddenly go up in smoke. And we’re left, sitting in the ashes, wondering what happened.
Jesus must have felt that way when he was being tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.
It seems totally incongruous – one minute, he’s being baptised in the River Jordan, publicly named and heralded as the Son of God. And the next, he’s ‘thrown out’ by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, left in a desolate place to confront his demons.
We’re told that angels waited on Jesus there, that they met his needs. But I’m struck by the idea of waiting in another sense, that of enduring the passing of time. The wilderness is a place that takes time and you can’t just pass through unaffected.
In all the questions that wilderness experiences raise in us, one thing seems clear: finding yourself in a place of struggle, confusion and loss, is not a sign of abandonment, nor one of God’s disfavour. Jesus wasn’t there because God had changed his mind and perhaps the knowledge of God’s love was what helped bring him out the other side.
God of abundance and desolation, travel with us in the wilderness, wait on us there and bring us out transformed for your glory. Amen.