With the onset of Lent, Jesus’ time in the wilderness (Luke 4) becomes the plumb-line for the rest of our Lenten journey. Not only does it begin Lent, but it sets the overall tone for its duration. Jesus’ fasting and subsequent temptations by the satan are paradigmatic in their example and nature. Much has been said concerning this time and Jesus’ responses to the satan. Much has been said regarding the recapitulation of Adam’s temptation and Israel’s wilderness stories.
However, there isn’t much said about how place comes into play.
So, today when I read this quote in Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (one of the books I’m reading during Lent), it struck a chord. It is from Frederick Bruner’s The Christbook: Matthew 1-12:
Notice that the devil leads Jesus higher and higher: first from the wilderness and its rocks to the top of the temple and now, explicitly, to ‘a very high mountain.’ The Holy Spirit led Jesus down – into the easily misunderstood baptism of John, and then down still further into the wilderness of temptation. The Holy Spirit’s way is not so much up into the fascinatingly great as it is down into the ordinarily mundane and into the way of the cross and of suffering.
I find this eye-opening due its exposure of the constant downward mobility found within God’s story. From the opening statements of Genesis through to the Gospel accounts of Jesus and then culminating in Revelation 21-22, we find that the movement of God within the plot of Scripture is predominantly downward in direction. God descends into the garden and asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”. Jesus takes on flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood. The city of God comes through the clouds and settles on the earth. All of these moves demonstrate the connection between God’s realm (heaven) and humanity’s (earth) and how the Divine stoops down to invade our time and place.
Again and again we find this downward movement in pivotal plot moments giving us an overarching picture of the manner in which God presents his love towards us.
We find this true here in Jesus’ temptation account as we see place pulling back the curtain a bit. As a result, both posture and practice are informed and molded in incarnational, self-emptying ways. The road to intertwining heaven and earth will not be through a spectacular power play from above. No, it will be long route of embodying love from the bottom upwards within the commonplace of the everyday.
What do you think?
Have you noticed the subtleties of place within the context of God’s story? If so, how?
Other posts in this Lent series: