Gospel: Mark 1:12-15
Have you ever been in a deserted area at night? What dangers did you feel in that "desert?"
I live in a suburb of San Diego, California, USA, an ocean-side, semiarid city that sits on slope of a mountain range. The two and a half million people who live in the area (add another million who live across the border in Tijuana, Mexico), live precariously because almost all the water they drink is imported from rivers many miles away. Turn off the water, and the area returns to the desert. Turn off the water, and the sun would reclaim the land with its tumble weeds and its scrub bush. For those who live in Southern California, water is life!
What would happen if Californians turned off the water? What would they face? Probably some of the same challenges Jesus faced in his desert experience.
After John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River,
12 God's Spirit made Jesus go into the desert. 13 For forty days, Jesus was tempted by the devil. He lived in the desert among wild animals. And God's angels served him.
14 After the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus went to Galilee where he preached the Good News of God. 15 "The time is right for God's Kingdom to come!" Jesus proclaimed. "Turn back to God and believe the Good News!"
In Mark's short account of the Temptation, he bridged the ministry of John to the ministry of Jesus. The bridge consisted of a test and a proclamation. Jesus was tested for the Kingdom. And he was found worthy to proclaim the Kingdom.
After Jesus was baptized,
12 immediately, the Spirit compelled HIM (to go) into the desert. 13 He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with wild animals and the angels were serving him.
1:12 "compelled HIM (to go)" is literally "threw HIM out." The Greek verb impels a violent action. Mark used this verb to describe an exorcism ("Jesus threw the demon out of the man"). In the context of the temptation, the Spirit gave Jesus a strong psychological motivation to go into the desert. Mark seemed to imply Jesus readily obeyed since it was God's will.
1:13 "He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan" can be translated "He was tempted (for) forty days in the desert by Satan." The participle "tempted" can be placed with the verb "was" (second version) or can stand alone (original version).
"Satan" is an Aramaic word, meaning "adversary." Of course, the adversary is evil.
"the angels were serving him" indicates God's messengers served him throughout the time of temptation.
The baptism of Jesus was a public event, witnessed by friend and enemy alike. But the audience extended far beyond the men and women present. In the mind Jesus' contemporaries, the cosmos teemed with all sorts of living creatures, some physical, but most spiritual. When the spirit realm heard the words "This is my beloved Son," Jesus' contemporaries held, those spirits opposed to God would try to discredit him.
After the heavenly announcement, it was time for spiritual battle. God's Spirit drove the Son into the desert so the war could begin. In the lore of Judaism, the desert was the place to find oneself before God and others. The people of God found an identity in the Exodus. David found his followers (i.e., his "family) in the desert. Elijah heard the Lord's message in the desert. Indeed, the drawing card for John the Baptist was the desert experience. The desert was not a place of escape, but a place of discovery. The desert dweller found him or herself facing "their own demons."
Jesus faced not only Satan, but a hostile environment with wild beasts. This scene stood as stark contrast to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2. There, Adam and Eve lived a plush garden surrounded by obedient animals. Their sly adversary broke humanity, creatures, and environment. Then he enslaved all three with his self-centered evil. Jesus stepped into the Evil One's arena to do battle and justify the title given him by his Father. In Mark's account, Jesus did not face Satan alone. God was ever present through the service of his angels.
14 After John had been handed over (to the authorities), Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of God, 15 saying, "The moment is right and the Kingdom of God is near! Repent and believe the Good News."
1:15 "The moment is right" is literally "The right moment is fulfilled." The Greek word for moment (kairos) refers to a point in time, not to the flow of time. It also refers to an event in time. In other words, the moment was right for the Kingdom to appear.
With the arrest of John, Jesus began to proclaim the Kingdom. Mark assumed his audience would read between the lines: he was victorious battling his adversary, Satan. For, only the victor over evil could announce such Good News!
Over past Sundays, we have studied Jesus through the eyes of Mark. One detail became abundantly clear: Jesus possessed power over evil in people (Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 1:21-28) and over evil in nature (Fifth through Seventh Sundays: Mark 1:29-39, 1:40-45, and 2:1-12). In Marks' mind he could not have such power unless Jesus vanquished his foe already. With the test in the desert and the proclamation of the Good News, Jesus proved his victory. Soon the people would echo his victory: "With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!" (Mark 1:28 RSV)
Catechism Theme: Jesus' Temptation and the Proclamation of the Kingdom (CCC 538-542)
Christ in the desert revealed the new Adam, the One who would vanquish the Tempter. Unlike Adam (and, later, the Israelites in the desert), Jesus did not fall to whims of selfish ambition. No, Jesus remained the faithful Son. And in his fidelity, he claimed victory over Satan. He also foreshadowed his obedient acceptance of the cross.
His fidelity was not only pointed toward his Father. When he answered "NO!" to Satan, he answered "YES!" for us. He would be a faithful servant to us. We who turn away from God find ourselves pursued and served by God in the person of Jesus. When we become his followers, his "NO!" becomes our rejection of evil. His "YES!" becomes our battle cry of hope for the Father.
With his victory over evil, Christ can now proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, for he can announce that which he possesses. When we are bonded to him (and each other) we can taste the Kingdom. As he was lifted up in obedience on the cross, we are lifted up with him, so we can share in the relationship of the Father and the Son, the very essence of the Kingdom.
What plans do you have for this Lent? How can you turn away from self-centered interests of the world, the flesh, and the devil? How can you turn toward God this Lenten season?
Modern conveniences have made life easier. For those of us with computers, the comfortable life is the norm, not the exception. Yet, would we be ready to make a few sacrifices, to make life just a little uncomfortable, so we could realize a taste of the Kingdom? Let us take these next forty days and reduce our comfort level a little bit. It may help us open our eyes and realize how precarious our existence is. It may help us realize how dependent we really are on the Lord. And how much we need the life he offers us in Christ.
Reflect on past Lenten seasons. Which one has changed you? Which ones were wastes of time? How can your plans for this Lent make a difference in your life and the lives of others?