Baptized in the Jordan, Jesus withdrew in solitude to test his response to the mandate bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon his ministry. He celebrated an initiating silence to recognize his identity in the redemptive service of all as Son of Man and God. Matthew’s story of Jesus withdrawing “for forty days” implies Jesus’ inner experiences in solitude as he is tempted, just as we are tempted in solitude, when we have time and space to think about it, to stand down from our primary vocations to serve one another as the Lord’s disciples.
Meditating on Jesus in solitude, we view moments of silent prayer as a climate to accept again our own baptismal identities by sharing the mission of God’s beloved suffering servant.
Reflecting on the gospel traditions of Jesus’ messianic desert experience, we appreciate a dimension of our discipleship as an on-going identity crisis that deepens our responses to serve those with whom we share our most intimate lives.
Projecting on Jesus’ baptismal conversion to his Father’s will, we learn that we are more alive when we eat the bread of God’s will for us as it is manifested in our ordinary experiences.
Imitating Jesus, we consider those particular persons to whom we have been “sent.” If there are only six degrees of separation of our lives from all others, Christians love others through serving those to whom life connects them in the first degree. Only by loving my sister and brother am I truly choosing to love the world of relationships as given by God.
In his essay “The Mission of Orthodoxy” Alexander Schmemann underlines the necessity of accepting our baptized call to mission in the specific places we are alive. He writes: “It is very significant that ascetical literature warns against changing places, […] against the spirit of unrest, that constant search for the best possible conditions. What we need today is to relate to the Church and to Christ, our lives, our professions, and the unique combination of factors God gives us as an examination which we pass or fail. […] When God gives a talent, He wants us to invest it. He wants us to serve. There is no other way of following Christ.”
The incarnation of God’s covenant with all peoples through Israel was fulfilled as Jesus of Nazareth prophetically “came into his own.” We are not Christians, and we shall become no one living nowhere, without this commitment to save those with whom life embeds us. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote for everyone that “there can be as sublime a holiness in fulfilling friendships, in observing dietary laws, day by day, as in uttering a prayer on the Day of Atonement.”
For Lenten reading, please examine Schmemann’s proposal of a new form of monasticism for Christians, without celibacy and “the desert,” but choosing to live in and love the world by enacting three specific vows: “a rule of prayer;” “obedience to the movement of life itself;” and “acceptance,” i.e., “digging one’s own well where you are.”*
*See his elaboration of this new form of monasticism in Concern 3 (1968), reprinted by Conciliar Press (1994).
By Jonathan Montaldo