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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bryant

Mark 1:12-13: Why Did the Holy Spirit Freak Out

Updated: May 25, 2020

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

I write these Friday reflections, it seems, in a tantrum, trying to outrun cognition, as if worried if I stop and think that I’ll stop writing. They are a bit like free-association, and yet they are Scriptures that I’ve prayed through and tried to picture. I relate to them, I think, like icons. Solemn confrontations. A portrait on the mantle.

The furniture of the week is there, the living room, and yet my eye is to the portrait on the mantle. And the room [the week], it seems, takes shape around it, the week, gets pulled together around it.

Why did the Spirit lay itself down gently upon the person of Jesus as he came out of the water, and then freak out, drive, lash, scourge him into the wilderness?

Why such a great and sincere anointing and then this lashing severity?

My guess is the Gospel, laid on our hearts by the Spirit, anoints and lashes. Or worse, the lashing, the driving, the exposing, is the anointing.

The Spirit rests on Christ but is not satisfied until Christ is in the wilderness.

What is in the wilderness? Nothing that can be managed, or controlled. In the wilderness one is not in power, one is at the mercy of.

What one finds in the wilderness is limitation. To be in the wilderness is to have reached the point where life is not something that can be fixed or managed. And the question is, what is life then? When it is not managed? Or controlled?

What did Christ find in the wilderness? When life could not be controlled, managed? When life could only be offered? Perhaps he knew the Father better, then, and saw more glory than when the heavens opened. And why is that?

Because in the wilderness, limited, exposed, and vulnerable, he found Satan and wild animals. To find Satan’s overwhelming power, to find wild animals prowling and ready to destroy. To find ourselves naked is to find our humility. And to find our humility is to find our place of worship, to have found, finally reverence.

In the wilderness Christ finds the captor of God’s people, Satan. And Satan got to find Christ as a homeless bum, a stranger, exposed to the danger of life in the Land of Sin and Death.

And this, somehow, is where we are supposed to be, too. This is where we are supposed to worship. Where we are supposed to learn worship.

Because the wilderness is a place where we have nothing and are in grave danger. We have found real, unmovable limitations. And limitations are always places of worship. That boundary, the place where "Life As We Would Have It" ends, is always sacred. It is always a place of worship.

It is why hospital chaplains call the hospitals sacred places. And why a man, dying of lymphoma, has made for himself, and for his family and friends in the room, hallowed ground.

A hospital room is a place where a limit is met and life is transformed, because life is finally acknowledged as what it is, as something no longer managed or fixed, but shared and offered.

At baptism, God the Father offered everything to Christ. He called him the Beloved.

And Christ, in the wilderness, offered it back. And found his footing, found his place of worship, when he offered to Father a life he would not fix or control or grab at greedily. And found, for all of us, our place of worship.

On Fridays I stand outside a church downtown. I have a small bar-height table with coffee on it. People come by and tell me things: the men beating them up, the drugs they’re on, the things they scared of. I’ve seen drug addicts try to steal someone’s bags while I’m getting them coffee, I’ve seen a man down on his luck sit by me and sing gospel hymns to me.

Those Fridays out there on the street, is a wilderness, where the devil is alive and well, and where shelter is scarce. But there is also, here, a table. A real bar height table that wobbles. And some coffee.

And me listening to what it is they need to tell me. And a prayer that I have.

That Lord who went into the wilderness alone might be with us in ours. That he might make a table at the exact place where he found his place worship. The place of our great need, our great poverty. That he made a table there. A little sanctuary. A little place of unassailable mercy.

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