From the editor: February 13, 2015

Into the Desert with Him

Baptism of Christ by Fra Angelico
Baptism of Christ
by Fra Angelico

Speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus asked the crowds, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" John's message, his only message, the only reason for someone to have gone out there, was to repent, to "turn back."

The disciples life-changing encounter with Jesus began with their encounter with John in the wilderness. They did go out to see something they thought they needed. It was John who then led them to Jesus, after they were baptized and repented in the wilderness.

But Jesus also went to meet John in the wilderness, submitting to what appeared outwardly to be a baptism of repentance, like that of the others, but was "to fulfill all righteousness." He not only met John in the wilderness, but after that baptism, Jesus went even deeper into the wilderness. For 40 days, tempted by the devil.

Hebrews speaks of our High Priest Jesus "who in the days of his flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear." While these words are most appropriately and traditionally applied to our Lord's Agony in the Garden, I think it fair to say that his prayers and supplications also were present in the temptation in the wilderness.

So what do we go out to see, then, when we think of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness? Might we not see in his humility, obedience, and even humiliation the motivation and burden of the Good Shepherd who in the wilderness leaves the 99 to search for the lost sheep?

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. No one normally lives in a wilderness. Without God, we are lost, and we sense it. Even when we do not admit it. So many people today are trying things, eating things, drinking things, watching things, listening to things looking for something that seems worth the effort and the time. Sometimes without satisfaction. We search, but are coy about it. We're not really lost, just passing time, we say. Maybe something will turn up. Surrounded with plenty, we're still in a spiritual desert; we just don't realize it.

So Jesus asks two of John's disciples, "What do you seek?" Ah, this is asked by the One who actually seeking them! Our encounter with him, like the others, begins in the wilderness, where we are lost, or scattered, like sheep without a shepherd, but think we know what we are looking for.

Now, when Jesus finds the Lost Sheep, a most marvelous thing happens. He does not walk us back to the others. No, Jesus says, he takes the lost sheep and "lays it on his shoulders."

Those shoulders of Jesus: picture them, strong, yet bruised for our sake. Those shoulders that bore the weight of the Cross, and carried it to Golgotha. And yet, he allowed Simon of Cyrene to carry it for him. Imagine that. I mean, really, stop, think and imagine this Man, Jesus: baptized by John, fasting in the wilderness, inviting the disciples to "come and see," praying in Gethsemane, carrying the Cross, forgiving his persecutors on Calvary, allowing us to carry his cross, and leading us Home.

Yours for Life, Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James