The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is taken from Matthew 4:1-11, the story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness. In the first full week of Lent we are invited to reflect on the gospel of Jesus’ temptation and the victory over the devil secured by the Word of God. The opening line of the story, which provides the setting, is very telling.
Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, he was starving. (Matt 4:1-2 CEB)
Is that disturbing to you at all? Jesus was led “by the Spirit” (hypo tou pneumatos) into the wilderness to be tempted. While there are different levels of interpretation upon which to meditate, the church has always taught that like Jesus God leads us to the wilderness to face the devil. He wants us to face the devil and win. God wants us to experience the restorative power of the gospel of the Word of God that comes by the naked vulnerability the wilderness.
We spend much of our lives avoiding the wilderness. We spend a good deal of our time trying to make sure we don’t put ourselves in places of naked vulnerability. That we do everything right so we don’t have to feel pain of weakness. Because, like the first parents, in such a place we feel shame, the exposure of our selves to ourselves and to those around us. But like Jesus, God calls us; He leads us to enter the wilderness to be tempted. This is brutal grace. It is brutal because it is so painful. It is a grace because it is only here that we will truly experience the saving power of the Gospel.
Lent is a time in the cycle of a year to be reminded of this call to brutal grace. It is an invitation to enter the wilderness into which the Spirit of God leads. It is a call to boldly walk into the situations that will strip us bare, strip us down, strip us clean.
Into what wilderness is God leading you this week?