Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 217


Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9;
1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him (verse 12). St. Mark's gospel, unlike Matthew and Luke, gives no details about the temptations themselves. We are not told what Satan said to entice Jesus to break his trust with the Father. Nothing about stones into bread, nothing about high leaps to safety, much less a word about worshipping Satan in exchange for worldly power.

And yet, Mark adds these two fascinating details: Jesus was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.

I wonder if Mark is making the point that the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness was not about self-doubting and second-guessing himself. Maybe Mark leaves out the conversation with Satan because God's words in the preceding verse are still ringing in his ears: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." While still in the grip of the Father's declaration of love, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus doesn't decide to go camping; he is not drawn to the dessert. Rather, the Spirit picks him up, carries him, and finally puts him down in the middle of nowhere. The strength of the verb that Mark chooses tells us that, for Jesus, going into the dessert was inescapable. The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. It is the same verb that Mark uses when Jesus throws demons out of people. The wilderness is not a place of self-doubt for Jesus because he knows, in every cell of his body, that he is the Beloved in whom the Father delights. The power of love sustains him; love alone drives him.

A few Sundays ago, in a sermon addressing the beginning section of this first chapter of Mark, I talked about the perspective of this gospel of a cosmic contest between God and Satan. In St. Mark, the coming of the Son of Man is an invasion of enemy-controlled territory. This gospel sees our world as captured by evil forces that oppose God. To use Jesus' own terms, he is here to tie up the strong man and plunder his property (Mk. 3:27). The wilderness then turns out to be not a place of trial and temptation but rather a launching pad for the work of freeing the world from the grasp of evil.

But what about the beasts and the angels?

I wonder if Jesus being with the wild beasts is a foreshadowing of the peaceable kingdom that Isaiah says we will have when God's reign is firmly established, in which no one, beast or human, harms any living thing. The coming of Christ promises a complete reversal of Hume's "nature red in tooth and claw" that transforms the world into a place where all living things honor each other.

I wonder if the presence of angels waiting on Jesus shows us that Jesus was not a lone ranger all on his own. He was accompanied by the hosts of heaven, who waited on him, strengthening him for his mission. Mark's gospel, for all of its jumping from one action to another ("immediately" is Mark's favorite word), shows us Jesus making time to be alone with the Father in prayer.

I wonder if we can choose this Lenten season to focus on the strength of love to drive us, on the grace of God that transforms us, not merely into people who harm no one, but beloved children who seek the wellbeing of all living things, and to make time to receive sustenance and comfort in our needs through regular prayer.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

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