Friday, March 17, 2017
That must have occurred to Jesus a few times during his fast in the Judean Desert. The Torah had it that God had spoken the world into being, first with light and darkness, then the sky and the earth, and then sea and dry land. But his sojourn into the desert and its accompanying odyssey of the spirit also began that way.
Like hundreds of others -- some curious, some eager and some hostile -- Jesus had headed down to the Jordan River to see the prophet. Like many others, he had listened, and had felt his spirit stir, and decided to be baptized. That's where the similarities had ended.
When Jesus came up from the river, his clothes hanging tight to his skin, water dripping into his eyes from his hair and beading on the tip of his nose, there had been a noise like thunder. To some, that's all it was; just the rumble of a storm that might approach and bring rain, or that might blow past and carry its rain somewhere else. But Jesus thought he had heard a voice speak.
"This is my beloved son," it had said. "With him I am well pleased."
Jesus hadn't been that different from the other children growing up in Nazareth. Like the others, he'd enjoyed running and playing games when he was little; and when he became a teen he'd learned a good trade helping his father with the work in Sepphoris. He'd even picked up a decent amount of Greek there, to go along with his Aramaic and Hebrew. There was that embarrassing story his parents told about the time he'd stayed behind in Jerusalem when he was a child; but he'd stayed out of trouble for the most part. He hadn't been one of the boys trying to pull a King David when the girls went to use the mikveh, for instance.
But the voice had unsettled him. The rabbi had always been impressed with his understanding of Torah when he'd studied it, and looked at him wonderingly when Jesus asked some of the questions he had. "Jesus questions," the rabbi had called them. Now, in the aftermath of that voice, those Jesus questions were rising to the surface faster than the bubbles in a pot of boiling water. With no one to hear him but the open air and animals like the gazelles he stumbled upon, he spoke the questions fearlessly in a prayer that already had run for weeks and would continue for even more before it finally ran out.
"Who am I?"
"What do you mean, your son?"
"What is it you want from me?"
"What's the point to all this?"
Like those ancient words that sculpted mountains, formed fish, and gave shape to the jackal the questions that Jesus spoke became solid, fixed things. Over the weeks in the desert as he spoke them, they in turn birthed more complex questions, and then these too gained form, size and feel as he spoke them aloud, considered them, and settled them.
The fast began with the spoken word, and in the end, it was the spoken word that would end it. In a final conversation about his identity, in the words spoken to him, in the words he knew, and in the words he woud speak himself, Jesus would find his purpose.
And, speaking, he would remake the world.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.