Each year as Lent begins we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. There are three versions found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke are similar, but for some reason, Mark leaves out all the specifics of the temptation and condenses the account to two verses.
There’s a lot to think about in this story and in the way it’s told, but the one detail that stops me every year is this: in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark says that he was driven. Led or driven? Did he jump or was he pushed?
The Spirit in both these accounts is one I recognize. Sometimes the Spirit leads you gently: reassuring you, beckoning you to step forward. Other times, he drives you like Jonah to Nineveh. Don’t even try to ignore the prodding, the Holy Ghost is not going to let you be, and he won’t stand for dawdling either. It feels like the difference between “I want to” and “I can do no other.” Not that we always mind being compelled to action. There is a certain reassurance in feeling that God is actually telling you something specific, since he is more often vague in his communications.
But I wonder about Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Did he know what was out there before he arrived? And why is it that Luke doesn’t tell of angels ministering to Jesus (a nice, comforting detail), but says Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” making it sound like the Spirit drove Jesus out of the wilderness?
I guess for me, this one troublesome detail isn’t so much about Jesus and his preparation for ministry as it is about the Holy Spirit and the way God moves in this world among us, preparing us for difficult tasks ahead. Sometimes he leads and sometimes he pushes. But if we respond to the Spirit’s direction, then perhaps he will take us to the place we need to be, to learn what we need to know. I hope so—even if it is a desert.