To Be a Pilgrim 1 - One Direction
For the gospels, it was important that Jesus’ life’s journey mirrored that of his people; and so, the ‘Temptations in the Desert’. The number forty appears a few times in the Bible, but mostly the forty days Jesus spent in the desert echoed the forty years that the People of God took to finally enter the Promised Land. In the Book of Numbers, Chapters 13 and 14, God instructs Moses to send scouts into the Land of Canaan to explore. This was to be an enterprise of the whole people, so leaders from all Twelve Tribes were picked. When they returned, they described a land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Some wanted to press on, but others dismayed the Israelites with talk of how mighty the Canaanites were, how like giants. The people went into meltdown. Because they doubted the Lord and their ability to take the Land they were promised, they were cursed to wander the desert for forty years, one year for every day Canaan was scouted.
Jesus didn’t just take on some general, vague humanity: he was immersed in the history of his nation and the promises God had made to it. He came to fulfil those promises and go beyond them. He accomplished this first of all by adopting an attitude they should have taken in the desert but didn’t. The desert became a place of testing, of temptation, which in religious terms is much the same thing. The hearts of the Israelites were tested in the desert, and time and again, they doubted, feared, wandered from the path. Jesus did not.
The testing of Jesus as recalled in the Gospel passage for this year’s First Sunday of Lent is really worth reading over and over again. The Devil doesn’t try to persuade Jesus that God has abandoned him because he is in a desert, or because he is hungry: the Spirit has led Jesus to this, and Jesus has chosen to be led by the Spirit. No, it’s the whole purpose of his mission which is up for grabs. Thus, the temptations to parlour tricks, power, and grandstanding. It is his intention, his heart which is being tested.
Adam and Eve, along with the People of God in the desert, represent the ways in which the human heart can be diverted: ultimately by the suspicion that God is holding out on them, is against them, has led them to death not new life. Jesus is not fooled for a minute. His trust in his Father is absolute and unswerving. He knows his direction of travel.
One of the reasons why we search, go on pilgrimage, leave jobs, relationships, are restless, is because we are convinced there is something better; and we are right, there is. Often, we must go ‘round the block’ a few times before we find the good that we are really seeking, the peace and contentment which comes from purpose. It’s that which is at the centre of our Lenten pilgrimage: why we are here, what our lives are all about. It’s not just about giving up things or even praying, or giving alms – it’s about direction, and direction and purpose go together to define intention, and intention comes from the heart. A heart which is made in the image and likeness of God, called into relationship with him, and is called every so often into the desert (thus the giving up things etc.) so that we can once again be pure of heart and see God more clearly. It just takes us a while, and only when we cooperate with grace that we understand.
Read Numbers, Chapters 13 and 14; Luke 4. 1-13