Our desire to isolate ourselves is often heightened during times of stress and fear. In these moments, especially regarding a global pandemic, our minds naturally race to how we can protect ourselves and our immediate loved ones. The word "quarantine" is often thrown around; shelves are emptied of supplies as preparing quickly devolves into hoarding. Our fear takes the driver’s seat.
It’s not just the COVID-19 pandemic, though, that initiates this chain reaction. In our political climate, we have been slowly isolating ourselves from those whose views differ from our own. We’ve seen the circle drawn smaller and smaller as a means of protecting our beliefs and ideologies. Our isolation results in echo chambers of peer groups, social media, and like-minded communities.
We are disconnected from those who think differently from ourselves, from those we name as other, from those we fear.
We, as a community, are deeply disconnected.
As we pare away the connections that make us uncomfortable, that challenge us or provoke us, we also pare away at our overall ability to connect. Such disconnection, done often enough and with a blind-eye towards its purpose and cause, will leave us utterly alone. It will leave us hoarding material goods to ensure our own personal safety to the detriment of the community. It will leave us without enemies but also without friends.
It will lead us into the wilderness, much like the place Christ found himself this past Sunday. There the Spirit led him, and it is there that Christ is tempted. Satan found Jesus in a moment of weakness and vulnerability. Hungry and thirsty after forty days and forty nights, Jesus is tempted. He is weak and yearning for his most basic needs.
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)
Jesus - fully divine but also fully human - hungers. He thirsts. He is not immune to these desires and needs. But it is not hunger that Jesus wins out over or thirst. It is not the willpower over his body and basic needs. Jesus triumphs over fear itself. His rebuke of Satan is a rebuke of the lie so easily sold to him, and to us: that we should care only for ourselves and allow fear to drive our actions.
In the wilderness Christ does not sacrifice his faith or his community, for the survival of self or his own needs. It is the whole of the world that he cares for, that he thinks of as his own self. He leans into discomfort in order to avoid sacrificing relationship with God and relationship with humanity.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Matthew 4:8-10)
Who among us would not be tempted by all that the devil has to offer? When supplies fly off shelves, when we isolate and fear our neighbors, when we avoid patronage at stores and restaurants because of the ethnic identity of the owners or workers, we are failing to worship the Lord our God. To love God we are called to love our neighbors. Now is not the time for isolation but connection. Yes, we need to practice good health and hygiene, but we can do so without xenophobia, fear or total quarantines. Now more than other times we need one another. Let us not be trapped by the false belief that we are safer by ourselves. Because it is there, when we are alone, that we find ourselves in the wilderness. The Spirit leads us together into community, which is precisely where our strengthen is to be found--in Christ and in one another.