Taskmaster Or Chauffeur
A Midrashic Metaphor for Mark 1:9-15
(1st Sunday in Lent; February 12, 2000)
It was for Jesus, and for those who have gone into this wilderness since then, including those today, a painful experience. But Jesus emerged after the forty days, and was THEN prepared to do His Ministry.
This wilderness experience has been given the name Dark Night of the Soul, by a saint of the Church centuries ago. But, as well-known as it has been in some quarters through the centuries, it is one about which we don’t very honestly talk. Indeed, when we first explored this concept in a small discussion group (reading together Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Disciple,” one of our members remarked: Oh, how I wish someone had told me about this before. I wish that I had known it was a normal experience when I was going through it."
The Dark Night of the Soul Wilderness experience is one experienced by a faithful disciple -- one who truly has laid claim to Jesus as both the Savior and Lord of their life. In this strange experience, the Christian finds that there is a certain coldness -- a sense of aloneness -- a feeling of being cut off even cut off from God.
This sounds like such a strange experience, to feel cut off from the One Who loves us and upon Whom we depend. And -- to my knowledge -- none of the saints nor scholars of the Church has ever truly grasped the WHY of such an experience. Why, when someone is devoted to God, do they feel cut off from God -- feel like their prayers are unanswered -- lose the assurance and pleasurable feeling that accompanies it?
Surely this is a dangerous condition for a Christian if they are not to know that it is far from unusual -- but, indeed, is a quite common condition for those who are growing in faith. For without such knowledge, they begin to question their faith, instead of understanding that this is a normal phase. Again, I can’t tell you why this Dark Night of the Soul Wilderness experience occurs, BUT if the Christian is devout and clings to his or her faith through it, they emerge from the other side of the wilderness as a truer and stronger disciple.
This wilderness tempers and conditions us. It teaches us to hang on and to trust in God even when the warm emotional feeling is not present.
As I read this Gospel text over and over, as in past readings, I envisioned Jesus being driven into the wilderness by the Spirit -- like the Spirit was some cruel taskmaster -- compelling Him to undergo this period of deprivation and temptation and accusation.
And then ... and I do apologize if the image given me does offend some of you -- for not all images work the same way for different minds .. but suddenly I had this image of the Holy Spirit as being Jesus’ Chauffeur.
Yes, after He was baptized, Jesus went to his ride -- and the Holy Spirit was their with a chauffeur’s cap on, opening the door for Him, and then driving Him out into the Wilderness, where the Holy Spirit Chauffeur let Jesus out.
I must confess the visual image itself seemed irreverent and inappropriate to me, as well, on first blush. But it was what was given to me, so I began to think it through.
So often we think of our wilderness experiences in life for only what we must endure as we go through them. It seems like it is only later on -- when we use that old 20/20 hindsight -- that we are able to see the good that came from the wilderness.
We think of ourselves as having been driven by some evil force into the wilderness, only to (sometimes much) later understand the blessing that was given us.
If we are able to think of that which takes us into the wilderness as a chauffeured ride -- with the assurance that the kingdom limousine will be there to pick us up on the other side ...
If we are able to understand that even the Son of God -- Jesus Christ -- went through this, too... If we can approach the wilderness with this sort of picture in our mind -- a picture of faith in our chauffeur instead of cursing the forces that led us there, or simply throwing up our hands and saying something about blind destiny -- then perhaps we can not only better weather the wilderness, but also learn more about ourselves, our God, and our calling while we are there.
Lent is a time of wilderness -- of voluntary wilderness. The Spirit awaits to take us into a time of deprivation and deep soul searching -- to walk the road that Jesus walked.
The Spirit awaits to drive us there. And the angels will wait for us, even though we may have to confront the wildest beast of all in the wilderness -- the beast of ourselves.
If you would like to make this Lent a special excursion, I invite you to get out of the driver’s seat. Let the Holy Spirit drive you where you need to go.
-- Shalom, Monty Brown, a Sheepdog for the Shepherd Barboursville First United Methodist Church