The life of faith is a journey. Jesus went into the wilderness to discover his ministry. The early Christians called themselves “the Road” or “the Way,” after Jesus’ famous words, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This is not new, or unique, to Jesus. Because truth refuses to stay put, religious teachers tend to be wanderers. We of the Biblical persuasion have been on a journey of faith ever since we left the Garden of Eden. Abraham left Haran and went into Canaan. Jacob left Canaan. Joseph was taken into Egypt. The culminating journey of this part of the Bible was the journey of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt across the wilderness and back into Canaan, the Promised Land.
I am not Jewish, but I have sat with Jewish children in candlelit rooms during Passover, when the youngest was asked “Why is this night not like other nights?” and we shuddered at the memory of the Angel of Death casting his shadow over the great land of Egypt, striking down all the firstborn children of man and beast, but miraculously sparing us. And I have set places at the table for the prophet Elijah, another wanderer who just happened to take off for heaven before he died and who might return at any time. And I have imagined leaving in haste as Pharaoh’s howls of grief filled the air, “Get out, get out!” or more poetically, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”
Love your enemies. Bless the Egyptians. Bless those who kick you out into the wilderness or nail you to a cross because they don’t have a clue. Christians celebrate a variation of Passover in our observance of the Last Supper. It was a Passover meal that Jesus ate with his friends before his journey to the cross. Remembering Passover reminds us that Jesus’ journey through death was like the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, a journey by night through a seemingly treacherous sea, a journey that takes us to the heart of fear and saves us. A journey that brings us into a whole new country.
It is easy for me to confuse the journey with the destination. Like the Israelites who were tried in the wilderness and humbled with fasting, I want to get where I am going, put up my feet, show off my trophies. When I move, I can’t take a lot with me. I can’t kick back in an unknown land. I need to keep my eyes and ears open to the dangers and the possibilities around me. As long as I am moving, I am aware of being a self among others. When I’m not sure where I am, I’m grateful to share the road. The moment I arrive, however, the temptation to close the door against those same others is overpowering. The moment I arrive and settle in, I go from being a sojourner to being an owner.
When I consider these things in light of Jesus’ temptation, I wonder whether I own as much as the society says I do. I may sojourn on my little corner of the wilderness, but can I really say that I own it? Are my children possessions? I am tempted to think that they are. But Jesus suggested that the Earth is a gift, not a commodity, that we are not owners, but God’s tenants during the time that we are here. As Jesus refused to appropriate stones for bread, as he refused to take possession of the kingdoms of the world, as he refused to broker with God, so does Lent call upon me to let go of my privileged position as an owner. Lent gives me courage to visit places I might be reluctant to go. And as I do, I may just find what I have been looking for all along.