What do you want me to do for you?
Sunday, February 26, 2012
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
During his ministry Jesus asked great questions.* One of his best questions was for the blind man Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Jesus often said he only did what he knew his Father was doing. So I can imagine that once the Spirit drove Jesus to the desert, the Father asked him the same question: “Jesus, what do you want me to do for you?”
How to answer? “I want to help men and women know your love, learn to love you and love each other.” And Jesus might have asked his Father, “What do I need to do this?”
In the more detailed versions of Matthew and Luke, Satan has three suggestions.
“Perhaps you could turn stones into bread, eliminating hunger and famine forever. Surely we would all love God and each other then.” Jesus essentially reverses Satan’s argument: hunger and famine will only disappear as we taste the bread of life, knowing God’s love never runs out. Then we will give to each other without reserve.
Satan’s next idea follows the same track. “Couldn’t you make everyone love God and each other? The kingdoms of the world are yours for the asking. You could transform life on earth if you would just take control.” But Jesus chooses to worship God rather than settle for working with Satan. He will not wrest control from anyone’s hands, not those of his Father, nor of his human brothers.
Giving up on this line of thought, Satan wonders aloud if Jesus knows God as well as he thinks he does. “Does God really love you, Jesus? Are you really that precious, that you can call him Father? You could test him. Test this hypothesis of yours. Test God. He’s up to it. Jump! He’ll catch you if he’s true to his word.” But Jesus knows his scriptures better than Satan knows his: “Thou shalt NOT put the Lord God to the test.”
Cold at night, hot during the day, the desert is as dark as dark can be at night, bright with blinding sun in the day. Every extreme is most extreme here. Loneliness can be intense. Despair is beyond the next mirage.
But Jesus was not really alone. Eventually, writes Matthew, “the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”
I have my own desert experiences, Father. Give me patience with your questions, give me patience with my loneliness. Let me wait for you. Knowing how you cared for Jesus, I know you will attend me too.
* For a complete set of questions Jesus asked as listed in the New Testament, see Living in the Question by M. Basil Pennington.