By Laura Ann Phillips
Mark the Evangelist records with typical brevity that, following His baptism, the Holy Spirit drove Christ out into the desert. There, “He was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to Him.” (Mk 1:13)
Apart from scorpions and venomous lizards, what other “wild beasts” kept Jesus company? What fears might have plagued Jesus long before the tempter arrived? Some presentiment of John’s imminent execution, perhaps? Or, His own?
Still, Jesus finds comfort in the midst of the wilderness.
Fearsome as they are, deserts hold an abiding beauty that hold us in awe. In those sparse places in which death comes so easily, life yet triumphs, even thrives, within its bare borders.
Our own deserts are not so different; it’s pretty easy to identify the “wild beasts” and “ministering angels”.
The worker, who clocks in, politely placid, hating day after invisible behind that desk, on that crew, in that industry, swallowing appraisals, time assessments and management’s whim. But finds consolation and encouragement from another equally beaten co-worker, who takes the time simply to be kind.
Or, the teenager striving daily to survive school environments harsher than Siberian tundra. Who must choose every word, expression and posture with diplomatic precision to simply get through to third period. Whose comfort comes from the girl in the third desk in the fourth row, around whom everyone feels no need to pretend, in whose presence you simply felt safe.
Ministering angels in harsh environments. Jesus was not alone in that desert, and neither are we. This calls us, then, to drum up the courage to be a consoling presence to somebody else, to witness the consoling presence of Christ in each circumstance. Even if we, too, suffer alongside those we console.
There is a time-tested treasure that comes to us through suffering and, more importantly, working for the good of others in the midst of our trouble.
St Paul, toward the end of a lifetime of shipwrecks, beatings, calumny, arrests, imprisonment for preaching about Jesus, came to see the truth about suffering:
“These sufferings bring patience… and patience brings perseverance and perseverance brings hope. And that hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.” (Romans 5: 3-5)
Our character is built, blow by blow, by our suffering. And, so, we make the effort to be that loving, healing presence to those around us in the midst of our own.
Christ taught us how to suffer and how to accept help. Suffering comes to us all.
“In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus tells us frankly, “but, be brave, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
If we are brave, we shall discover, first hand, what God promised through the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before Jesus entered that desert: “They will be given a crown of beauty instead of ashes.”
Perhaps a mature Lenten practice may be to offer consolation to others in their own desert places.