Just a couple of days ago, I waxed eloquently about the mercy we can find in the wilderness when we find ourselves failing to meet the religious standards we set for ourselves. I talked about Jesus picking grain on the Sabbath, and I confessed how I’ve been talking on the phone while I drive back and forth to the hospital to see my dad, even though I have given up multitasking for Lent.
And while I completely believe everything I wrote that day, I am feeling a heaviness of heart to expand that thinking on this day. While the wilderness is certainly no place for legalism, it’s also no place for indulgence. And though we may cry “Uncle” regarding our spiritual disciplines, there’s never an excuse to give in to sin. In the darkness and hunger of the wilderness, it’s really easy to confuse those two issues.
I think of Jesus’ temptation during his 40-day wilderness just after his baptism and just before his public ministry. Matthew’s account of that event says that Jesus had already been fasting for 40 days and nights when the devil asked him to turn stones into bread. The way I see it, the fast was all but over anyway, and Jesus was just days away from the similar miracle of turning water into wine. Had he done what Satan suggested, I’m not sure it would have been sin.
But Jesus knew that this was not the only temptation coming his way. To let down his self-discipline in the contrived wilderness of fasting would only be a gateway to indulging his flesh in the real wilderness he was experiencing as he confronted his enemy. Turning stones to bread was one thing; bowing down and worshiping Satan was another. And Jesus could not afford to get them confused.
As I continue making my way through both my self-imposed and super-imposed wildernesses this Lent, I have found myself walking a very fine line to cope with all that’s going on around me. Is it ok for me to talk on the phone while I drive even though I am supposed to be abstaining? Probably. Is it ok for me to become angry and complain about my situation? Probably not.
Of course there is grace and mercy on the other side of both types of indulgence. But there is also growth and maturity and a closer walk with Jesus when I continue to say “no” to both. And I don’t know if I can afford to get them confused right now, either.