1st Sunday Of Lent
26th February 2012
Dcn Tony van Vuuren
Mark’s Gospel reading today reminds me of the old fashioned method of communication—the telegram. Short, succinct, full of meaning, but leaving much unsaid. An urgent message that requires our immediate attention and response.
The first Sunday of Lent always begins with the Gospel reading of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Each of the synoptic gospels has its own take on the story. Mark’s version is brief and leaves out the details told by Matthew and Luke. Mark almost dismisses Jesus’ temptation. He covers it in a terse line, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” That’s it! The temptation story in two sentences; but we need to respect Mark’s narrative and listen and reflect on what it has to say to us as we begin our Lenten desert journey.
What does he mean when he says the Spirit “drove” Jesus out into the desert? Typically the language of Mark is a lot stronger than Matthew and Luke, who both wrote that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. That’s not strong enough for Mark; no; the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert wilderness; Sounds harsh and abrupt, but we hear the description of a powerful Spirit acting decisively and forcefully.
The Spirit, from the opening words of Genesis, is a creative, dynamic, determined and empowering force. Ordinary people have done extraordinary things for the good of many, thanks to their being picked and driven by the Spirit—as Jesus was.
The desert wilderness is portrayed as a bleak inhospitable place; the harsh region of wild animals and evil spirits. To survive such a long period of temptation and deprivation, Jesus needed a strong and driving Spirit; As we do when daily life seems fraught with temptations and challenges. Satan and the wild beasts personify all the evil forces that Jesus and we meet in the desert.
Spirit-driven as he was, Jesus was able to triumph over whatever tempted him to give up his mission. Mark’s brevity and lack of detail concerning the nature of the temptations, is not accidental. He doesn’t want to make much of them, doesn’t want to describe what they were like or what kind of struggle Jesus had in overcoming them. Earlier in this gospel we heard John the Baptist promise, “One more powerful than I is to come after me” (1:7). It is obvious that Mark, by minimizing these temptations, is making a point. One more powerful has come and is dealing with temptation and sin and its consequences on human beings.
As we enter this Lent we may feel our own resolve to change and reform is wishy-washy. Perhaps we are thinking, “Here we go again.” It’s just another Lent. Maybe we lack the enthusiasm because we have been around the block more than a few times!
How do we make this Lent a fresh experience? How do we gather the spiritual desire and energy to change and reform? How will we even know the areas in us where change is necessary?
John also said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
There’s the source of our renewal; there’s the One who can fill us with the desire to change and make that change possible. If we allow Him to, Jesus will baptize us anew with his Spirit this Lent to revive our wizened and tired spirits. Lent is truly a season of hope and joy in which we can discover or rediscover that what is impossible for us is always possible for God. Jesus proclaims that in Him, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Many of us have been trying for a long time to change our lives on our own. Now God has come to help us.” We are called to reshape our lives and to believe the Gospel, but why continue to try on our own? “God is here with us.
As we go through life, we need to expect temptations and trials, but we need not dread them. They are opportunities to trust God and overcome the evil that is presented to us as something good or as a challenge. How do we act as if we really believe that, though?
Part of the answer lies in the words of Jesus which proclaim the gospel message. If this is the time of fulfilment, then it is the time for us to realize that God always provides us with whatever spiritual blessing we need to move past the temptation; into trust and into God’s waiting arms. We need to repent of any wrong doing in our lives including the lack of trust that just seems to seep into our routines, sometimes barely noticed. It is the lack of trust in God that causes us to waiver, more than the pull of whatever the temptation might be.
Recognizing when a conflict of values arises is based on having a relationship with God, and a trusting one at that; and that is where the problem begins: a lack of trust that we can do God’s will with His help can send us down the slippery slope.
Believing in the gospel means believing that; as it says in the reading from 1 Peter, our Baptism has real meaning in our lives. Baptism “is not the washing off of physical dirt, but the pledge made to God with a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus, we have been cleared of our guilt and re-destined for heaven. If we believe that and live that way, we will be able to think and act past the dread of life’s trials and trust being able to overcome the challenges facing us. It is not we who do the overcoming, but the Lord! Trust in Him and let Him do it.
Perhaps the attention we give to temptations needs to be more on how the Lord helps us overcome them rather than how dreadful they are.
This Lent, may our trust in the goodness and faithfulness of our God be increased. May we see trials as opportunities to let God’s ways triumph. May we repent of trying to do things our way rather than with God’s help! May we continue to recognize God’s presence in times of trial and in times of peacefulness.
Allow me to share this prayer with you
The Merton Prayer
MY LORD GOD,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton. Trappist monk. (1915-1968)