No Shortcuts in the Desert
I’ve watched a lot of superhero movies in the past few years, so I know a little of what the devil was going for when tempting Jesus in the desert.
This Sunday we step into the season of Lent with the gospel story of Jesus in the desert, when after forty days of fasting and prayer he is tempted with the ability to turn stones into food, to defy gravity, and to even have power over the kingdoms of the earth.
Jesus isn’t just being tempted with the possibility of survival and sustenance in the desert. He’s being offered powers that any modern movie watcher would think of as rightly belonging to superheroes. From Jedis to Avengers to Incredibles, these are about people with incredible gifts who bear the weight of the world on their shoulders. Yet in each film they also reckon with their own unique vulnerability. Perhaps that’s ego, perhaps that’s emotional pain, perhaps that’s the sadness of what they must give up to be “perfect.” In the desert, Jesus curiously turns the special powers down: he will heal the world, but he won’t be taking any shortcuts.
I find it curious that the world’s most iconic superhero was created in, of all places, the city of Cleveland. This was the 1930’s, when we were at top of our industrial game, one of the biggest cities in the country. What could go wrong, right? I might argue that the illusion of vulnerability is tempting and seductive but ultimately corrosive to our spirits. You might even say it was a kind of kryptonite.
Lent is a time of great vulnerability: of going into the wilderness and relying solely on God. Not on our own superpowers, or even our normal powers for that matter. There, in the desert, we see the face of God.
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