Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy

After you hear the Father’s words,
“You are my beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased,”
the Spirit leads you into the desert,
there to be tempted by Satan.
What is this, the only Son
entering into our place of estrangement,
tempted as we are, in every way,
yet without falling into sin?
As in the waters of the Jordan
you descended, sanctifying
the lowest place, to sanctify us there,
so now you embrace us
in the depths of our brokenness and sin,
there to espouse us to yourself in purity,
and to draw us out of this place
into the place of unity, integrity, and joy.

From the place of our slavery
you abide in the truth of the beloved Son.
Here in filial dependence, Child of the Father,
you overcome the tempter’s power,
so as to lead us back
from the state of sinful isolation
into the blessedness of sonship and daughterhood,
into the joy of childhood again.

Indeed, as Son you are also Bridegroom,
entering into the desert to meet your Bride
as you did in the Exodus so long ago.
This time you are incarnate in our very flesh,
and the desert is your first Eucharist,
where your hunger and thirst
becomes a body broken and given
and blood poured out in pure love.
In the deep integrity of your Heart
you draw us from disintegration,
from our fragmented desire, once unified,
now enslaved to so many partial things,
and into unity and intimacy again.

But first you break the shackles
that so painfully bind us,
showing that the truth of love
is stronger than every contrary force.

You are weak and hungry, Christ,
in this desert prayer of longing and of hope.
In your frail body, your soul burns
with unquenchable fire, yearning for God.
In your thirsting Heart, God himself thirsts.
And you abide here in this place,
this place of intense yearning, of ardent hope,
a meeting-place between God and man,
precisely in the place of poverty and need,
of childlike dependency and vulnerability.
Yet the tempter comes to this weakness,
and tries to convince you
that such a lowly state is not fitting
for the Son of the eternal God.
It is amazing: he does not attack
your power, but rather your weakness,
for it is of this that he is afraid.
This is because, for you,
weakness and humility is nothing
but the transparency of your sonship
to the Father whom you love,
and your trusting surrender
into his receptive, sheltering arms.

Ah…this temptation is like in the beginning,
when he told Adam and Eve
that to be like God they must be “great.”
But a single word of yours
reveals that you are indeed greater
than Adam was so long ago,
though also, in a way, smaller,
for you are truly Son,
a humble, dependent Child.
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that proceeds
from the mouth of God.
The purity of your thirst
for the love that God alone can give
is unable to settle for less than this drink.
And the tenderness of your receptive Heart
refuses to be numbed by passing things,
vigilant, unceasing, in the ardor of holy fasting.
Indeed, even when you leave the desert
and begin to eat and drink again,
you maintain, unceasing, this attitude of love,
for in all things it is not mere earthly things
that you accept and receive
(as if there were even such a thing)
but in all things you receive the Father’s word,
the word of his infinite love for you,
filling your Heart to the brim
and overflowing, abundantly,
into all of our hearts too.

Then the tempter takes you
to the parapet of the temple,
suggesting that you cast yourself down.
For you, of all, should know that:
He will command his angels concerning you,
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
These are beautiful, consoling words,
but how is it they are found in the mouth of Satan?
He takes what is true, and distorts it,
so it means no longer what it was meant to mean.
He whispers in the ear his subtle deceit
as he did in the beginning to our first parents:
“You can be like gods; perform this magnificent deed!”

Ah…again it is the desire to be like God
—a desire which is profound and true—
yet led into the lie that God is someone other
than who he truly is,
the Father of the little ones.

It is true that a child is always sheltered
in the arms of the loving Father,
borne up, in utter confidence,
without the slightest fear.
But only remain a little child
and do not try to be great,
to walk on your own apart from him.
For you are not, indeed, ever walking alone,
nor do you even need to try.
Rather, place your hand is his, little child,
and let him guide you step by step.
Indeed, throw yourself unreservedly
into his welcoming arms,
for he will not allow you to fall.

This, precisely, is what is true
of you, Jesus, in this moment,
for the arms of the Father shelter you,
not from earthly danger alone,
but from every evil deceit.
You abide as a child
upon the Father’s breast,
sleeping gently and trustingly
when storms rage without.
It is in this way alone that you can
penetrate into the heart of these storms
which rage within the human heart,
calming them by your sovereign power
and a single word of authority,
the authority of Love.

Last of all, my Jesus, the tempter
takes you up a mountain
and displays before your eyes
the whole world and its kingdoms.
Only fall down and worship him,
and he will give you all these things.
This beautiful world
Satan thinks is his possession.
Yes, he has a certain dominion,
not to possess, truly, or to control,
but to distort and to obscure,
like a fading shadow fleeing before the light.
To seek to possess things in this way
is the surest way to lose them,
for all things, even in their brokenness,
belong to God above.
You know this, Jesus, for you are the Son
into whose hands all things have been given,
indeed, from whom they flowed
in the beginning, and in whom they abide
even to this day.

Yet now in this frail humanity
you also take possession of us,
of the beautiful brokenness of this fallen world.
And making it your own, you make it new again.
Here we glimpse, at last,
that these temptations are a prelude:
a prelude to your Passion.
Here, finally, is the dominion
of the evil one overthrown,
and you liberate us from evil,
drawing us to yourself,
and carrying us, in your embrace,
to the loving Father.

We tend to ask ourselves
why we cannot overcome temptation as we wish,
why we cannot pass through suffering as you do,
why we find ourselves overcome by weakness
and the encounter with our limitation.
Here in the temptation in the desert,
you reveal to us, Christ,
where your true strength lies,
and it is not, perhaps, where we may think.

At another time, Peter steps before you
and tries to convince you to avoid the Cross,
and your words to him may startle us,
your determination to walk this path.
Yet I sense deep inside, my Jesus,
that you see the Cross,
not as a mature accomplishment
or as an heroic achievement,
but simply with the eyes of a little child.
You do not overcome the tempter’s power
by your strength, but by your weakness,
and you walk the path of suffering,
not in a victorious might,
but in the humility and obedience
of a beloved Son, relying on his Father.

Your Passion is only like a dark forest
through which you must walk,
hand in hand with your Father,
trusting in his love and in his care.
And indeed the fire of Resurrection
—what a mystery this is—
is alive and burning already,
before you even go to the upper room,
an unquenchable flame burning in your Heart.
This flame does not, nor could it,
go out in the darkness.
Rather, it is precisely this fire
that leads you through the darkness
to become, there, light for all of us.

Poor and dependent, a little Child
walking through our darkness
with your eyes fixed always on the Father,
yearning for his definitive embrace
when all darkness is at last overcome.
Humble and lowly, seeking nothing “great,”
but descending like water to the lowest place,
there to embrace us, the Mercy of God Incarnate,
and there to hold open before the Father,
in purest receptivity and trust,
our deepest wounds and sorrows,
to be healed and transformed
by the outpouring of his love.

In this way, indeed, you take possession
of everything that there is,
as a Bridegroom at last receiving his Bride,
taking her to live with him in his home.
And this, dear Jesus, is precisely what you do,
as you break the chains of sin and death,
rising again from the grave,
and ascending, bearing us all within your arms,
into the bliss of your Father,
there to dwell, eternally,
in the embrace of perfect joy.