Facing our monsters.
What are your monsters?
When I was a child I remember watching Doctor Who, I loved the programme but as the opening credits would start to roll and the music ramped up one thing always happened: ‘Mum! Mum, it’s starting!’ Mum needed to sit with me to watch it with me because I knew scary aliens would make an appearance. No matter what most of us might claim now as children we all had our fears, logical or not it didn’t matter: heights, depths, small spaces or maybe a fear on the monsters under the bed or in the cupboard when the lights went off at night when Mum and Dad seemed a long way off in the front room. The Disney film “Monsters Inc,” turns this fear on its head, it is a wonderful story about the fear of monsters in the closet, when the monsters turn out to be rather lovely, but it is not how we usually see them when we are young. As adults we have our own monsters, they do not tend to be Daleks or scary things under the bed, but they can be just as frightening, health concerns for ourselves or our loved ones, financial worries, or mental health issues, who knows.
I wonder what Jesus’ monster looked like. After the joy of his baptism, I think he heads off into the wilderness to face them, his sole reason for retreating to the desert was that he must become acquainted with human suffering and temptation, to face ‘the monsters’. Jesus had to know these first-hand and altogether before he could begin his work of offering us forgiveness and peace. That was why Jesus made his way into the wilderness as a human, to encounter, head-on, what all of us go through. Some things do not change, deserts are frightening places because they can and do kill people, they are some of the harshest landscapes on earth and few humans survive there for long. The Judaean desert at the time of Jesus was not much different and Jesus heads into it alone and unprepared, called there or maybe driven there.
St. Mark in his Gospel does not describe the encounter or list the temptations—both Matthew and Luke give fuller accounts. Mark simply states he was in the wilderness forty days. Such a simple few words but they contain so much.
This story—baptism and then temptation in the wilderness is our story: yours and mine. The first thing that happened to Jesus after his baptism was being driven into the wild places where he was confronted by temptation. Isn’t that true of us? Our life in this world is one of temptation, wilderness wanderings, facing down trouble.
It is easy to pretend that everything is solved by becoming a Christian, that our troubles will cease if we follow the Lord, but we know that is not true at all. We are flesh and blood people—we are not angels. No matter how good our lives, there will be times when we will be driven out into the wilderness and meet our monsters. Our faith will be tested repeatedly. Some of you are there, in the wilderness, right now.
During our lives we will go through cycles of testing, some short, some awfully long indeed. Some will leave us battered and bruised, scarred by our encounters in the wilderness. To acknowledge this is not a weakness, it is not a sin, it is a simple fact of life. No matter how strong our faith we are going to feel like some of these encounters, well, we have lost.
But here is the important point of our faith, Jesus understands the battle, that is why he went there himself, and he emerges victorious from the wilderness, so if we often do not, that is ok. He leaves the wilderness to preach and teach and heal, and that includes offering healing to us, here and now and forever. No matter what monsters you may fear, no matter how long your time in the wilderness, remember that simple and unchanging fact. Jesus has been there and came through all of it, for us. We are often weak, but Jesus can be our strength. Through faith in him, we are given strength in our temptation, forgiveness for our sin and God’s presence in our daily walk.