After my baptism, I returned daily to the river and watched. When John said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” we applauded. Some danced. Some jumped into the water and splashed each other like children.
People were so busy celebrating that they didn’t notice Jesus head toward the desert. I wondered why he left and followed.
He walked for an hour and then stopped. I stayed back, hesitant to disturb him. He stood still, eyes closed, and tilted his neck so the sun could fall fully on his face. The hands at his sides slowly rose. I became self-conscious. Was I intruding? I went home.
Days passed, and I wondered about Jesus. No one had seen him. More days passed, and I decided to return to the desert. I don’t know what I hoped to find.
Somehow my wanderings led me to Jesus, who sat with his chest to his knees. He looked thin and tired. His lips were dry and cracked. I stayed back. Had he been praying all this time? I can barely sit through a synagogue service. What self-discipline this man had! And what was he thinking about as he sat there? Did he love solitude so much? Or was he waiting for an answer that was slow in coming?I wanted to imitate him, so I started praying at a distance. I became aware of stiff limbs before I realized that much time had passed. As I gazed at a full moon, I felt famished. I wanted the comfort of my own bed. What was I doing out here? Why didn’t I leave?A thought occurred to me: “Yours is a useless life. What you do doesn’t amount to anything. You don’t amount to anything.”
I chewed on this idea for a moment. As fear mounted, Jesus turned. He knew I was there. My mind raced. A voice inside accused me: “You don’t belong here. Leave. You are interfering.”
I wanted to run. But Jesus’ eyes contradicted my inclination. I stayed. It was then that I noticed Jesus sweating profusely. Was he going through a battle of his own? His hands were clenched in prayer, and I followed his example.
“God, I belong to you,” I prayed. “I want to follow your plan, but I don’t know what that is. Show me.”
The image of the ill neighbor I care for flitted across my mind. Then I remembered my mother, who lives with us. I do matter, and it’s a temptation to think I don’t.
“Give me courage,” I prayed. “Give me patience and a kind word when I am exhausted.”
I closed my eyes. Peace overtook me. The next thing I knew, sun was warming my cheek. I had fallen asleep in the desert. As I stretched my stiff muscles, I looked around. Where was Jesus?
I began wandering and looking for him. Why was I seeking him? I should be home. I should be… I caught myself in this thought.
“Be kind to yourself. Test your thoughts.”
I heard a voice and turned to see Jesus. “We’ve had a lot to think about out here, haven’t we?” Jesus smiled. “Let’s head back. We know what we need to do now.”
As we walked together, he talked about his own temptations. And he invited me to talk about mine. When we reached my house, he thanked me. He thanked me!
“I know you’ll accompany me again,” he said. “Not into the desert, but into your busy life of service. This is love, my friend.”
He turned up the road, and I went into my house to receive a puzzled look and a reminder that the roof needed fixing. “And your mother has been calling for you.”
Learn more about the image, Ivan Kramskoi’s Christ in the Desert, in Arts & Faith: Lent.