Distracted, Diluted, Diverted: a Lent reflection

Lent is a funny mixture of a season. There’s a clear link with forty days that Jesus spent in the Judaean wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, following his baptism by John. There is also a long tradition of Lent preparing for Passiontide and the death and resurrection of Jesus, at the end of his three-year ministry.

How can we deal with this mixture? Jesus’ uplifting experience in the Jordan River is followed by him retreating into a hostile desert where he is ‘tempted by the devil’. It’s clear that this is ‘meant to be’. The Holy Spirit that descended at his baptism, is the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Both the exaltation and the deprivation experiences are in the purpose of God the Father.

It’s easy to see the blessing that was in the baptism: the charismatic confirmation ‘You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. It was an amazing ‘wow’ moment, a ‘mountain top’ experience, though at the lowest place on earth!

Illustration showing the feet of Christ in the wilderness

But what about his time in the desert? Why was this so necessary? Perhaps if Jesus’ baptism was his opportunity to dedicate himself for what he was called to do, and the Holy Spirit affirmed this, the desert experience was Jesus’ opportunity to prepare for the task and recognise how he was going to do it, so that he remained obedient to the Father’s will. If that’s the case, what part do the temptations play? I suspect they are crucial to Jesus grasping the challenge. They provide Jesus with a remarkable growth opportunity. It’s not only important to see how to do things—it’s vital to recognise how not to move forward. All three temptations sought to distract, dilute or divert Jesus: distracted by stones that he might turn into bread, diluted by this offering a way of achieving God’s plan but avoiding suffering, and finally being diverted into worship of Satan.

The wilderness temptation experience would prepare Jesus both for his three-year ministry, and for his passion and crucifixion. Peter had to be challenged (‘Get behind me Satan’) when he tried to dilute Jesus’ conviction of what lay ahead, and the experience in Gethsemane had to end with ‘Yet not my will, but yours’ when Jesus voiced the diverting temptation ‘take this cup away from me’.

All this matches our experience as individuals and as a church. We are committed to be those who follow Jesus but we recognise the reality of temptations to be distracted, diluted or diverted. When we face up to how we are to go about being disciples of Jesus, we also need to see clearly how not to proceed.

Maybe Lent will be a time when we capture new insight into all that the Holy Spirit is nudging, and even have new charismatic moments of inspiration and calling. However let’s also be mindful of the need to recognise temptation, and even welcome it, if by it we become convicted on how not to go about God’s work.

Every blessing,

Illustration © John Paul Stanley