Christ in the Desert and the County Jail
On Shrove Tuesday, while much of the world was at Mardi Gras, I was praying and sharing scripture with a small group of inmates at the county jail. Our scripture was the Temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-19). One thing that emerged in our prayer and reflection was Christ’s acceptance of the Father’s way of rejecting power and advantage in the announcement of the Kingdom.
Why take the hard way? God could have redeemed us in many different ways. Why such a horrible death? Why did the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism by John? Why was the Son of God fasting and praying for 40 days?
One of our group restated a common view that the offenses of humanity had become so severe that God demanded the most severe appeasement. I suggested that maybe the answer was in the persistence of evil in our lives. For so many of the men I was praying with, their lives had been damaged by forces beyond their control – poverty, addiction, and mental illness. (Hardened criminals generally don’t come to a prayer meeting in our jail. The faith of those who do come is something, I am sure that Jesus did not find in Israel and does not find in most respectable Christians.)
Christ, who was like us in all things but sin, chose to identify with the powerless and to put his faith in the Father through non-violence. Utter foolishness – according to St. Paul. In our suffering and defeat how could we be one with a God who was not defeated – a God who was not an utter failure? Did the Father exact this humiliation out of a some perverse pleasure unworthy of a human father?
That community of Divine love – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, Breath of Life come to the heart as love. Love can never be forced. True love can never come through power, glamour, or glitz. As we reflected and prayed it became more obvious to us that God can only come to us in compassion and that is how we come to him. Yet compassion is not compatible with power, wealth, and success – like a camel passing through the eye of the needle.
God with us. God like us. Powerless in love.