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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

Beyond The Desert

"Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him."

(Mark 1:12-13 NKJV)

Jesus' experience post baptism tells us that there is a wilderness where the Spirit leads us, where God accompanies us. Water baptism is a point of passage and not an end point of the Christian journey. If people came to John in the wilderness, drawn and fulfilled in heart by his message, and then decided to be baptized to witness their willingness to change and repent, today Christian baptism has more value as a witness to what Grace produced. It still remains a stage, from which to pass and then continue. After baptism, Jesus is filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:1), but He does not go directly to the villages or towns to preach. Before beginning His ministry He is led into the desert. In Hebrew the word desert is midbar, wordless, thus the place of silence, where you learn to listen, to recognize voices, to distinguish which is of the devil and which is of God. It then becomes an area of training and preparation.

There is another desert, however, where we go alone, to escape from the present condition, to get away from unpleasant situations. There we seek shelter at times, and at others we long for a final solution, even if it is the end of our days. This happens when we see no alternative and are in the grip of discouragement, as in the case of the prophet Elijah. "But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”" (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah, despondent and discouraged, stops under a broom and asks to die. He is in a psychic and spiritual state that I call "the Elijah syndrome." But if the Spirit had thrust Jesus into the wilderness, here God does not stand by and watch his prophet.

In fact, as Elijah falls asleep under the shrub, an angel brings him hot buns and a pitcher of water. He rouses him and makes him eat. Perhaps without paying too much attention to what was happening, Elijah eats, drinks and goes back to sleep. Then the angel returns again, waking him a second time. I do not know how much time elapsed between the two visitations, what I think is important is the fact that the angel returned. God does not let us give up. He wants us to get up and come out of our desperate condition. This time the prophet eats, drinks and resumes his journey in the desert. After walking 40 days and 40 nights to the Horeb, he hears God's soft, gentle voice commanding him to go back, anoint a new king and a new prophet, because He does not stop thinking about the later. God could have told him to go back immediately, but He fed him and accompanied him to the desert so that he would learn. Whatever your wilderness is, whether the Spirit pushed you or you ended up there on your own, you can rest assured that God is with you and will lead you out when and how He wills.

The length of stay, whether days or years, has in the biblical text in common the number 40. The flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Moses stayed on Sinai, 40 days. In Hebrew one letter stands for 40: the letter MEM. In addition to the number it recalls the waters (mayim), from which the earth sprang; consequently-with its shape-the womb and mother (in Hebrew em). The forty days thus represent a definite period that encapsulates an event or experience that is prolonged in time but open to life. The letter MEM connects to a closed and limited time and space, which has the meaning of repairing and deeply understanding who we are and where we are going, in order to start again renewed and transformed. It also represents the water element, the dynamic element that flows and generates transformations. It also represents the junction point between a before and an after, a change, recovery after the end, metamorphosis. The Mem tells us of a possible BEYOND: The rainbow after the flood. The people will enter Canaan. Elijah will retrace his steps, and there will be a new monarch and a new prophet. Jesus will come out of the wilderness "in the power of the Spirit"(Luke 4:14). You cannot see what is BEYOND, but God is the One who is beyond your imagination, beyond your assumptions....

"To look at the sky is to look at history with God's eyes. The stars that light up the night say that there is no darkness that cannot be loosened and turned away."


Weekly Bible Reading Plan #32 July 31, Psalms 54-56; Romans 3 August 01, Psalms 57-59; Romans 4 August 02, Psalms 60-62; Romans 5 August 03, Psalms 63-65; Romans 6 August 04, Psalms 66-67; Romans 7 August 05, Psalms 68-69; Romans 8:1-21 August 06, Psalms 70-71; Romans 8:22-39

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