Cast out by the Spirit to the desert of holy disruption

Photo: Juli Kosolapova, Unsplash

I hear a gentle huffing from down by my feet. A few moments later, the huffing turns into an insistent pawing at my shins. Sighing, I close my laptop because I know my dogs will continue to disrupt my attention to work until I take them for a walk. 

Yet, no matter how irritated I am by the disruption, I am inevitably in a better mood by the time that I let my pups stroll me around the neighborhood.

In some ways, the season of Lent is not unlike my impatient doggos. We are minding our own business in the liturgical season after Epiphany when BAM! Lent disrupts our patterns with its insistence on self-reflection, confession, fasting and preparation for Easter. 

So, we might be left to wonder: Are there ways in which this season of holy disruption might be beneficial?

To answer this question, it is helpful to explore a 40-day period in Jesus’ life when he, too, experienced disruption. 

The Gospel of Mark narrates this period in just two verses (Mark 1:12-13). In this short account, one detail stands out: Mark’s identification of the Spirit as the one who drives Jesus to the wilderness (Mark 1:12). 

Beyond that, it’s not merely that the Spirit sends Jesus out. The text specifies that the Spirit casts him out. 

The Greek verb that is used here (ekballō) is used elsewhere in Mark to describe Jesus’ actions over demons and unclean spirits (Mark 1:34, 39; 3:22-23). 

In other words, rather than Jesus performing a powerful exorcism that dispels demons, the Spirit here performs its own sort of exorcism, casting Jesus into the desert. 

What happens in the desert is rather vague in Mark. Mark indicates merely that Jesus was “tested by Satan,” was “with the wild beasts” and had angels who “waited on him” (Mark 1:13). 

Although this short account raises more questions than it answers, one thing is clear: Jesus’ usual patterns are disrupted. 

Rather than being tested by religious leaders (see Mark 8:11 and Mark 10:2), Jesus is tested by Satan. Rather than being accompanied by his disciples, he is with wild animals. Rather than performing acts of service (see Mark 10:45), Jesus is the recipient of them. 

In short, Jesus’ 40 days in the desert are vastly different from his usual patterns of life as narrated throughout the rest of the Gospel. This time is disruptive.

As disruptive as Jesus’ experience is, the Spirit’s action in casting Jesus out to the desert seems to be an essential part of Jesus’ story. It is not until after he has this experience that Jesus is able to begin his ministry with an announcement that the kingdom of God has drawn near (Mark 1:15). 

Jesus’ 40 days of disruption seem necessary for the good work that he will do.

Our own 40 days of lent can feel long and tiring. At some point, we might be tempted to throw up our hands and ask, in the words of the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1). 

Yet Jesus’ own 40 days of disruption suggest such times of enforced interruption are necessary for accomplishing the work we are called to do.

It appears that the Spirit is acting not unlike my dogs when they decide it’s time to take me for a walk. Sometimes I need disruption to get on track. In Jesus’ case, this interruption leads to the advent of his teaching and healing ministry.

Your and my 40 days of Lent will not lead to work as earth–shattering as that of Jesus. Nonetheless, this season of disruption offers an opportunity to reset bad behaviors, recalibrate misplaced desires and realign misdirected energy. 

While the process might feel jarring, the story of Jesus’ disruptive experience offers consolation that our disruption might mature into a fruitful season of growth. 

What good things might we do as a result of 40 days of disruption? 

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