"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." Mk 1:12-13
Twice in the first chapter of Mark's gospel there is an Epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and clarity for Jesus and all of us, his followers. The first occurs as Jesus emerges, newly baptized, from the waters of the Jordan and hears God's words, "You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased."(Mk 1:11) This is an Epiphany of a kind we all enjoy and seek. It is an affirmation, a light come to us from afar, a confirmation of our identity as God's child.
The second Epiphany, about which we read today, follows immediately, but it is an Epiphany of a very different kind. Jesus is in the desert, the place of terrible cold at night and unbearable heat during the day, and he remains there for forty days and nights. This is a dark Epiphany, a time of affirmation surely, but accomplished in the shadows. Though Jesus is ministered to by angels, he is also among wild beasts. His life is being threatened and his integrity is being challenged. Today's Epiphany is daunting, one which most of us would rather avoid.
The challenge of the Gospel is clear. Are we willing to look for and find God both in the cleansing waters of new life, and in the desert darkness of fear and uncertainty? While it is natural and understandable that we would hope to find God in all the obvious places and situations, in a loving family, in a supportive community and in friends who know us inside and out, it is not enough for the Christian. Our task is more difficult, but also clearer.
When we can allow God to be God and look for God in the dusty and suffocating corners of life, we are acknowledging that we are made in God's image. God is not made in ours. If we are only happy with God when life is a smooth sail across a calm sea, we will never know the fullness of God's love. Neither will we be able to appreciate or put on the suffering of Jesus. While we know that suffering is not something we seek in itself, we also know we cannot avoid suffering altogether. Every life is full of light and dark. Knowing that God is always with us, even when we cannot understand God's ways, is the key to our faith. The road to Easter joy must go through Calvary.
Today, return to an unhealed place within your heart and let God be with you.
Recount a time when you discovered God in the "desert."