Also for Friday
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
We think that deserted places are appropriate for prayer. The wilderness is not dangerous to us. A little solitude is a relief rather than a risk. We call praying in the wilderness a spiritual retreat. But leaving the safety of the village is strange behavior in the first century: evil lurks in the wilderness. And praying by yourself is strange behavior: prayer is a ritual activity done as part of a community. This Jesus is unafraid of the wild, unafraid of the spirits that roam there. And this way of prayer is something his followers will ultimately ask Jesus to teach them.
But for now, the question is to go back or to go forward. The city is looking for him, the whole city. Are they hungry to hear more about the reign of God and the life to which we are called? Or are they afraid to lose their local miracle worker?
Jesus could have a comfortable life as a village priest, reading Torah, teaching the way of God, presiding over weddings and funerals, anointing the sick, leading the public prayers of the community. Surely he would marry into a leading family and raise a happy brood. Certainly, Capernaum would have loved to hold onto him.
Perhaps his prayer in a deserted place was like his temptation in the wilderness following his baptism. Which way will you go, Jesus, the way of mission or the way of comfort?
We assume that there was no struggle for Jesus. But we do know that he prayed for the cup to pass by him. He anguished over the path of mission that was before him at Gethsemane.
Maybe here, too, there is anguish. For the life of a mendicant would put him among the deviants, in the category where there are only two choices: either he is a prophet of God or he is demented, possessed.
The life of a village priest must have had an appeal: the temptation to be ordinary, the temptation to be like everyone else, to conform to the pattern of this world.
Fortunately for us, Jesus chose God’s mission.
And how shall we choose?