Author: Chad Hyatt
Reflection: v. 12, ‘drove him into the wilderness’
In the Gospels, wilderness isn’t a metaphor—it’s a social location. Sure, we can back our way into wilderness imagery and use it to talk about the geography of our inner world, the terrain of our wild hearts. But only after we do the discipleship work of locating ourselves within the actual wildernesses in our world. The wilderness where Jesus is baptized and tested in the Gospel of Mark is a wild, mostly deserted place. The wilderness existed outside of the official power of empire, abandoned by it, very far from the centers of power. For that reason, thieves on the run encamped there. But it is also the locus of salvation in the Gospels. There John first appears, announcing the New Exodus Isaiah had promised. There Jesus feeds the multitudes. In the lexicon of Pope Francis, the wilderness becomes the ‘periphery,’ the margins, the edges where the poor among us are shunted to the side. That biblical wilderness can be found in every city. At Mercy, we call it the streets. It’s the back alleys, abandoned buildings, bridges, hospital waiting rooms, long rides on public transportation, heated exhaust grates mostly hidden from view. It should be axiomatic that our social location matters if we are to respond faithfully to the gospel. Mark uses some great verbs: the heavens don’t just ‘open,’ they are ‘torn open.’ And Jesus isn’t just ‘led’ into the wilderness, he’s ‘driven out’—the same word the Gospels use when Jesus himself is ‘casting out’ demons. It is a strong, provocative word. The same Spirit that came upon Jesus in his baptism is now driving him out into the uncertainties of the wilderness. Maybe in our present distress and the discomfort we feel as we scramble to make sense of the world around us and even what it means to be church for one another, the same Spirit is driving us out, too. The old ways aren’t going to bring us to a new world. Perhaps the streets can become the locus of salvation for us today.
Prayer Spirit, drive us into the wilderness and lead us to salvation.