From the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 4:1- 4 (NRSV) – April 13, 2013.)
It seems odd of the Lectionary to put us back to the beginning of Lent when we are not quite halfway through the season of Easter, but here we are, reading once again about Jesus’ temptations in the desert following his baptism.
Perhaps it’s not odd at all, however. Our spiritual life, like our emotional life, follows no particular schedule, no orderly progression. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the theoretical five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – but clinical experience has shown that a grieving person does not move neatly through them as if they were rungs on a ladder. One may move from denial to anger to bargaining and then return to denial; one may skip a stage only to return to it later; one may spend a good deal of time in one stage and only a short while in another. There is no orderly progression.
Perhaps that’s the message of today’s rehearsal of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the desert. As one works through the process of enlightenment, of salvation, of spiritual growth, of whatever-one-calls-it, one does not follow a schedule. We may move back to an earlier stage, revisit issues we thought we’d dealt with.
St. Paul urged his friends in the church at Caesarea Philippi to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philip. 2:12-13) Nowhere does Scripture promise that this work will be neat and tidy. If anything, the witness of Scripture is that spiritual and emotional growth is a messy affair.
Perhaps that is why Paul described salvation as something that comes with “fear and trembling,” and perhaps it is why, in the midst of Easter, we are taken back into the desert of temptation.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.