Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B – Mark 1:29-39
When was the last time you said to yourself, “I really want to go to a deserted place; a barren, empty, and desolate place; a lonely place; a place without water; a place that is wild and risky; a place where anything might happen; a place where if you get lost they might not find you?”
My guess is that nobody wants to go to that place and yet we’ve all been there.
That’s exactly where Jesus has gone in today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39). He got up early, while it was still very dark, and left the security of the house to go to this deserted place, this wilderness place.
This is not a state park kind of wilderness with a park headquarters, a free map, a port-a-potty, and a gift shop. It’s not an Air BnB cabin in the woods kind of place. It’s not an escape from the busyness and hassles of life, and it’s not a weekend retreat in the beauty of nature kind of place.
The last time Jesus was in this deserted place he was driven there by the Spirit. He was among the wild beasts. He was hungry. He was tempted by Satan. It seems like once would have been enough. Been there, done that. And yet, throughout the gospel we are told Jesus often went to the wild and deserted place. What do you make of that? Why did he go there?
Did he go to pray? Maybe. But why couldn’t he pray in the house? I do, don’t you? Did he go to have some alone time? Maybe. But Mark says it was so early in the morning “it was still very dark.” The others were probably still asleep and would not disturb him. Did he go to be with God? Maybe. But hadn’t God already shown up and filled the house when Peter’s mother in law was raised from the bed and the fever left her? Do we really think God can be found only in certain places? Is God more present in this church than in your home? No, of course not.
I think there is something else going on. Here’s what I wonder.
- What if the deserted place isn’t so much a place or location, but an experience?
- What if the deserted place isn’t a landscape outside us, but a landscape within us?
- What if we don’t all go to the deserted place, but we all go through the deserted place?
Most of us don’t choose the deserted and wilderness places of life. We don’t have to. They come to us.
The deserted places come to us as losses, griefs, and sorrows; struggles and failures; break ups and breakdowns. It’s the feeling of deep loneliness and despair. It’s not knowing whether you’ll get through the day or whether you even want to.
It’s those times when meaning and purpose are in short supply; when we are forced to take a second look at ourselves, ask a better question, or reconsider what really matters. Sometimes the deserted place is one of boredom and restlessness, feeling lost and confused, wondering if this is all there is to life. The deserted place might be our marriage, parenting, or work. It’s those times when we are overwhelmed and powerless. It’s chaos, busyness, and exhaustion that leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves, one another, and God. It’s the circumstances that cause us to wonder who we really are and what our life is really about.
The deserted places hold before us life changes we neither wanted nor asked for – the death of a loved one, a lost opportunity, a shattered dream. It’s the place in which we face up to ourselves and the truth of our life, things done and left undone, who we are and who we are not. It’s all those in between places of life where what was is no longer and what will be is not yet. It’s standing on the threshold of the threshold and not knowing.
I don’t know why Jesus left the house and went to the dark deserted place. I don’t know what happened to him or what he experienced that morning. But that Jesus went to that place asks a question of us. Are you and I willing to get up and go sit in our dark deserted place?
There are a thousand different ways in which we experience the deserted place, and I wonder what your deserted place is today. What parts of your life are dry, barren, empty, and desolate? What does that feel like? What does it bring up in you? What wilderness has come upon you and what are your doing with it? Are you meeting it or avoiding it?
Whether we go to the deserted place or it comes to us it’s never an easy place, but I think it is always a place from which a message of life and good news come.
It is from the dark deserted place in this morning’s gospel that Jesus will “go on to the neighboring towns, so that [he] may proclaim the message there also.” Before that Jesus emerged from the wilderness of wild beasts and temptations saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe the good news” (Mk. 1:15). And before that John the Baptist was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” (Mk.1:3). Before him it was Isaiah (Is. 40:3). And before that the deserted wilderness place was the path the Israelites followed to the promised land.
New life arises from the deserted and empty places. The good news of Christ comes in the wilderness of life.
Whatever your deserted place might be today there is a message of life and good news.
- In the wilderness of exile God speaks a message of coming home.
- In the wilderness of broken relationships God speaks a message of reconciliation.
- In the wilderness of self-criticism, self-hatred, self-destruction God speaks a message of love.
- In the wilderness of scarcity God speaks a message of generosity and abundance.
- In the wilderness of sin and guilt God speaks a message of mercy and forgiveness.
- In the wilderness of loss and sorrow God speaks a message of healing and joy.
- In the wilderness of death God speaks a message of more life.
What is the message you most need to hear today? Go to your deserted place and listen. It’s speaking to you. It has a word for you. It just might not be as empty and barren as you thought.