A couple of weeks ago, the Lectionary for Protestant churches suggested the New Testament text of Jesus’ temptations. It is a familiar story that took place at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.

desertThe traditional telling is of Jesus, alone in the desert, 40 days in prayer and fasting. Along came Satan who offered three temptations, which Jesus withstood. I have heard this preached dozens of times, but this story never really carried any power for me until a few years ago.

This was not some face-to-face encounter with a Satanic being who made three tempting offers. Seen this way you can almost hear the creepy organ music in the background. Jesus was in a desert. There was no temple for Satan to take him to the top. There was no mountain from which he could see all the nations of the world.

No, this was a private, personal struggle that Jesus had with himself, alone. It was a drama that played out in private that he then conveyed to his followers, perhaps in metaphorical terms.

Jesus grew up a devout Jewish boy. He knew Jewish history, Jewish theology, he memorized the Torah, he did all the things and learned all the things that good Jewish boys of his day did and learned. From those daily lessons in the Synagogue, for the Synagogue was both the church and the school, he had internalize traditional Jewish boy notions of God and of the Messiah who would some day come and restore the Jewish nation to his glory.

Those are the ideas and beliefs he carried with him into the desert. Those are the things he had to confront, and those are the things he had to unlearn. He faced the temptations of defining himself as an adult according to what he had been taught as a child. His struggle was with going the route that was expected of him, or defining his mission according to his own evolving understanding of who he was and why he was there.

His background was essential for bringing him to that point. It was also essential that he unlearn it.

underpassWe all must do that at some point.  Perhaps many times.  It was under an I-35 overpass in Waco, Texas that my life fell apart one night. I had to decide to continue the familiar direction I had been heading most of my life, or redecide some things about myself and my direction.

Things fell apart. It was necessary. Otherwise I would never have given up on some things that were so familiar and so comfortable but were no longer working for me.

That was my desert experience.