By Major Joanne Holz Director, School for Leadership Development
At first blush the wilderness holds no inviting qualities. Forget the prohibitive terrain: sometimes rugged, sometimes mountainous, sometimes dry and cracked, or sometimes hot and sandy. The quiet is deafening, the travel lonely and isolated, and the expansiveness daunting. Why would anyone tiptoe toward the edge of the wilderness much less enter it?
The Scripture speaks of God calling people into the wilderness; leading them into this drought-ridden and sparsely landscaped place. Were not the Israelites called into the wilderness? Did God not call Abraham into a nomadic, wilderness life for a time? Have you looked again at the story of Elijah, not on Mount Carmel, but fleeing into the wilderness? And Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
It has taken me years to learn that there are wonders in the wilderness to be embraced as teachers of and companions for my soul’s formation and transformation.
Mark’s brief account of the wilderness experience of Jesus in the first chapter reveals that the wilderness is part of the experience of Kingdom people that anchors our identity, security and value in God. There is no pretense in the wilderness. All of the structures that normally prop us up are not available in the wilderness. The wilderness leaves you with no other people or no seeming purpose.
The result of the wilderness, however unexpected, is the desert rose! There is beauty and there are wonders that are only experienced in the wilderness. John heralds salvation in Jesus. Jesus, who was affirmed and confirmed as God’s beloved Son at his baptism, now gains spiritual authority as he chooses to rely on no one or nothing other than the Father.
The result? Jesus taught with authority! Jesus cast out demons! Jesus had spiritual discernment! Jesus was able to meet the deepest needs of people. Let’s not romanticize that the people in Capernaum were just waiting around for Jesus. They were artisans, merchants, husbands, wives, children, fishermen, religious leaders, all trying to make their way through life. The religious leaders were unable to offer healing, life-giving words. The people limped along as best they could, enjoying what they could and minimizing what was difficult.
Spiritual authority liberates. It gives life. It revolutionizes. And it comes in the wilderness.
The next time you are tempted to complain about the wilderness, look at Jesus. Overcoming every test, he emerged in spiritual authority for the people. If we are to be like him, we must overcome our own testing(s) to emerge with greater, life-giving, spiritual authority. Unlike Jesus, we are purified. Like him, that purity has power to overcome the impure whether literal or figurative demons!