The Wilderness Inside

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Was the wilderness testing a one-time experience or did Yeshua* periodically (regularly) engage his interior chaos to find and restore inner strength for his mission?  

Mark 1:12-14, 35    12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.  … 35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place [“wilderness”] where he could be alone in prayer.(CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: CC0 Public Domain]


Musings on Mark 1:12-14, 35

Mark, as is his wont, presents the gospel story in crisp, clear, clipped fashion. Yeshua* goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Immediately thereafter he is driven into the wilderness for 40 days. Then, his public ministry and mission begins.

Wilderness is about the inner chaos that occurs when one is troubled by conflicting claims upon oneself or is anxious about embarking on a path with suspected negative consequences. Going into the wilderness means facing the possibility of nothingness in one’s current and future life. While the church has most often called Yeshua’s wilderness experience a time of temptation, it might be more accurate to say it is a time of testing, a “time of critical scrutiny when things must be sorted out.” (Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: The Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel, 1989, p. 73)

Of course, 40 days in the wilderness was a literary device, paralleling Israel’s 40 year journey through the wilderness. Israel’s wilderness was also a sorting out — setting aside the old ways (conscripted life in Egypt) in order to prepare for a new way (life in a land of “milk and honey”). For Israel the old leaders (including Moses) had to die off before entry into the new land. Old familiar ways, recognizable structures and patterns, common expectations die hard.  Change is hard; transformation is threatening and scary. For Yeshua, the familiar ways of Israel, the recognizable structures and patterns, and common expectation were in need of replacement if the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice were to be implemented.

Yeshua’s* wilderness experience was not a single, isolated occurrence. Mark depicts two other times when Yeshua* went into the wilderness to pray. Most translations use the word “desert” to depict the location of Yeshua’s* praying. (The same word is translated by wilderness and desert.) Rather than understanding “wilderness” as a geographic location to which Yeshua* went, I prefer to understand it as a description of Yeshua’s* inner (spiritual) geography — in order to fully engage that inner geography, it often becomes necessary to withdraw to a more secluded (“deserted”) place. I suspect that inner wilderness was a continuing experience of Yeshua — necessitated when popularity with the masses seemed to override the mission of reordering the powers, when resistance from the Powers that Be increased to a fever pitch, when ever his closest disciples seem not to understand the basic dynamics of his mission. Whenever the gospels describe Yeshua’s* retreat for prayer, it seems clear to me that Yesuha is reentering the inner wilderness to sort through his mission with “critical scrutiny.”

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