Just after his baptism and before his ministry begins, Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel elaborate on how Satan tempts Jesus when he is famished and Mark’s Gospel only says. “….he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended to him.” (Marl 1:13)
On Saturday I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw this painting of Jesus in the wilderness by Moretto da Brescia. Usually when I think of Mark’s “wild animals” I imagine them menacing Jesus as part of his trial, but in the painting by da Brescia all of the animals are kneeling before him in homage. Of course they would be.
The book of Genesis remembers a time when the world was still how God had intended and animals were not afraid of people. It’s not until we break God’s heart with every plan ours being “nothing but wickedness all the time” (Genesis 6:5) that God tell the animals “When you see people, RUN.” (Genesis 9:2)
But Jesus is human the way we dimly remember we once were before we saw evidence that might makes right, before we learned not to talk to strangers, before we got used to walking past the misery of our neighbors and before we worried that there would not be enough to risk sharing. da Brescia’s Jesus in the wilderness might be the only real human being there has been since Eden. The lion in the painting recognizes this and looks like he’d like his head scratched. The fox puts out his paw as if he hopes to play with Jesus’ big toe. You’d expect with this kind of reverence and affection on display that Jesus would smile and maybe even stroke the little green snake that is clearly looking for that kind of attention by his foot, but he does not. Instead, he’s resting his chin in his hand and staring off into nothing, lost in thought, as if the beautiful world he has made is not enough for him without the one he loves.
You and I are the one that Jesus loves.
It’s Lent, a season of fasting, prayer, almsgiving and repentance in the life of the church. Sometimes I mistake “repentance” with dwelling on my shame, but that brings me no closer to who God has fashioned me to be. The invitation to a new life, a more human life, is extended by the Creator every day the sun rises.
No matter how depraved the violence we unleash in the world, like at Stoneman Douglas High School, there is always an Aaron Feis, the Gym Teacher who jumped in from of the bullets to save others. No matter how fallen, human beings are holy. No matter how battered, the beauty of the world pushes up out of the concrete and whispers in the grass. Paradise, as always, remains at our disposal if we could just remember how to be people.
And God waits.
Your sister in Christ,