The desert is an unforgiving place. It is a place of extremes: it can be bitterly cold at night and an absolute inferno in the day. At times the desert is a fearful place to be, particularly if one is stranded there.
The 85,000 Syrians living in makeshift shelters in Rukban “camp” on the Syrian side of Jordan’s Northeast border are quite clear about the difficulties of desert life. They know it is unforgiving and fearful. At this time of the year they live in the cold. There is no running water and no toilets. 85,000 people, most of whom are women and children (in the Syrian context this is usually about 70-80% of the population) all of whom have simply tried to escape war and its barbarity.
The Gospel for Lent’s first Sunday tells us that Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert. Some profound tensions strike me in this story. St. Paul tells us that Jesus’ mission is to reconcile all things to the Father (1 Col. 20). Jesus, the reconciler, is led to the unforgiving desert. Jesus, the bringer of peace, is confronted and tempted by the father of fears, Satan.
Perhaps it is precisely because the desert is fearful and unforgiving that Jesus must go there. For God’s reconciliation to take place the fearful and the unforgiving must be faced. It is fear and lack of forgiveness that makes reconciliation necessary.
Jesus was called by the Spirit to go into the desert. Today, not the Syrians but we are called there. I would suggest that the 85,000 people at Rukban, indeed each of the 65,000,000 people in the world displaced by armed conflict, are also calls to us and to the world. They are calls not for a quick repair job (which is what Satan tempts Jesus with first: cure your hunger by turning these stones into bread), but for quiet determination and trust that God’s reconciliation continues to be a work in our world. To experience it, however, we must first hear the Spirit’s invitation and go into the desert.
~ Fr. Michael Gallagher, SJ.
Father Gallagher has worked with Jesuit Refugee Services for 15 years. He is currently the JRS representative in Geneva, Switzerland. An article on his work can be found here.