Native Australians, the Aboriginals, are a people who, so far as I understand it, still have a rite of passage where young men are driven into the wilderness and are expected to fend for themselves for as long as six months as a way of transitioning into full manhood in the culture. They’re set up and prepared for this trip, trained and taught in the years leading up to it, and when they’re ready, according to the opinion of the chief elder, then they’re allowed to make their Walkabout.
That’s what the trip is called, a “walkabout,” and over a span of years this word has come to carry extra meaning. While it’s describing a noble and arduous undertaking, the trip of transformation and the greatest change in an Aboriginal man’s life, the word has now come to be used in a derogatory tone; in Anglo-Australian culture, it’s used to describe directionless wandering, pointless travel, a waste of time.
Jesus himself wanders into the wilderness to fend for himself for 40 days, he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him — so says our Gospel lesson this morning — he bereft of human company, alone, without friends to fall back on, no cell-phone service, as Satan licked at his heels and helped him hallucinate bread.
It seems like a crazy thing to do after the spiritual high of baptism in the Jordan river and hearing God boom from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We’re given, too, an outline of what Jesus is up to after this time in the desert, he went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news. So stuffed between these two activities so familiar to us, baptism, and telling the story of God’s redeeming love in our lives through evangelism, there’s that weird Walkabout. Continue reading