“The Spirit took him off into the wilderness for forty days, to be tested by the devil…”
Here is a first-century Semitic man embarking on a grueling forty-day fast. No pleasure of food; no warm, fresh-baked bread. No joy of community; no comforting words from friends.
How strange: for the first time, I notice… Luke says the explicit purpose of this fast was “to be tested by the devil."
I’m struck by this image: this able-bodied man was not retreating into the wilderness for a peaceful meditation; no, this man (and this is new for me) is a gladiator entering the Colosseum. And there, his mortal enemy awaits, to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
But here, in this lonely arena, there are no spectators, no roaring crowd; only silence.
I see this forty days that Jesus endured in the wilderness—and the accompanying physical hardship—as a dramatic “stripping away”; a stripping away of all of the comforts and distractions of his daily life (which was, surely, so much tougher than our own).
The gnawing hunger refined him and the continual flood of prayer washed him and, together, pain and prayer were like a lacquer thinner, stripping away the layers—his physical layers, his mental layers, his spiritual layers—until what remains is a physically hard human with intense clarity.
He is in intimate communion with the Creator. His body exposed to the elements and his mind freed from the minutiae of everyday life, this human being is now prepared for battle, to stand face to face with the Destroyer.
But here’s the amazing thing—the fast hasn’t weakened him; it’s strengthened him. This fast from food is actually a “feast of prayer” (to borrow a phrase from the wonderful Richard Foster)—and it endows Jesus with, as Trent writes, a “mental acuity and heightened awareness of his surroundings… the ideal time to be tested by the devil.” (pg. 88, Jesus Journey)
Jesus’ food-fast and prayer-feast allows him to see Reality at its essence: a loving Creator and, slithering amongst the shadows, a cunning Destroyer who seeks to seduce humans into running after worldly things… away from Abba Father.
As for me, I know we humans have always struggled but I feel like it’s especially easy to be seduced by the comforts of modern life. Food always at our fingertips, smartphones attached to our bodies like a new appendage.
I wonder, when do these comforts become distractions? And when do distractions make me blind and deaf to what matter most?
I wonder, how can I—even in a small way—“strip things away” to see more clearly? How can I be immersed in the shimmering love of this Abba Father? How can I recognize when the Destroyer is whispering in my ear?
I don’t think I need to do exactly what this intensely adventurous rabbi did—and disappear into the wilderness (plus I’d miss my wife and two little girls too much). But I can do it in little ways—closing my eyes (and my laptop) and venturing into the wilderness of prayer for a few minutes each day, perhaps re-ignite the little fasts that I used to practice—and enter into a lavish feast with God.
Today's guest post is by Rob Pyles (aka "Roberto" in the book acknowledgements): "Rob Pyles is part of Ekklesia, a wee house church in East Boston (along with Mr. Trent). He's a daddy to two amazing girls and a lucky husband to a feisty Mexican. He's an entrepreneur, and loves a good story, and occasionally a fine rum. He suffers from a rare medical condition where he can only talk about himself in the third person."