First Sunday of Lent
Year B : 26 February 2012
Lent is introduced each year with an account
of the temptations of Jesus. The purpose is
to remind us that in Jesus “we do not have a
high priest who is incapable of feeling our
weaknesses with us; but we have one who has
been tempted in every way that we are, though
he is without sin” [Hebrews 4,15]. We listen
to Mark’s short account this year.
The wilderness is the rocky, barren land that
slopes down steeply from the mountains of Judea
to the river Jordan, home to robbers and wild
animals, with sparse patches of vegetation know
only to shepherds. In the Old Testament wild
beasts are associated with evil powers. Isaiah
pictures the Messianic age in symbol as a new
creation where animals would not hurt each other
and would live at peace with human beings.
Jesus has just been baptised. The Holy Spirit
descends and the Father speaks from heaven,
and immediately the Spirit drives him. Mark
wants us to grasp the power of the Holy Spirit
at work. ‘Driving out’ is also used by Mark
to tell us what Jesus does with demons and unclean
It was in the wilderness of Sinai that Israel
was tested for forty years. Moses and Elijah
fasted in the wilderness for forty days. Scripture
sees the wilderness as the place where God tests
them and reveals himself to them. Mark does
not mention fasting or hunger; he does not tell
us what sort of testing Jesus underwent; he
does not mention the three temptations Matthew
and Luke tell us about. Mark wants us to see
that the public life of Jesus begins in conflict
with Satan. He will have to resist the temptation
to be popular at Capernaum rather than to preach
the Good News: “Everybody is looking for you”,
or the temptation caused by Peter who objects
to him suffering beforehand. Has some balance
been found between wild beasts and angels, or
has a sort of temporary truce been established?
Angels and beasts seem to coexist. We should
not be surprised if that tension comes to pass
in our lives also.
After John had been arrested ‘handed over’
is what Mark actually says, words he will also
use for what will happen to Jesus. The first
line of his gospel says that it is the Good
News of Jesus Christ. Now he identifies Jesus
and God. The Good News is the living Word (as
Jesus is). The time has come The time of waiting
is past. God has kept his promises and the Kingdom
has come close. The time of decision is at hand,
time to repent (to change our minds), to accept
and take to heart the Good News. For Mark, to
believe means to trust and to commit oneself.
• The Spirit drove him is what the Gospel actually
says. The name Jesus is put into today’s reading
so that we can know it was Jesus who was driven.
It sounds harsh and heartless. No doubt he went
out into the quiet of the wilderness to think
about what had been done and said at his baptism
in the Jordan. Wild beasts, rocks, temptation,
a long stretch of time. It sounds grim, worse
than any Lent. The angels looked after him.
So he experienced consolation and comforting
as well. Is Mark offering me hope?
• Are there ‘wild beasts and temptations’ in
my life? How clearly do I recognise them? Have
I had to call in the angels, like the cavalry,
• The kingdom of God is close at hand. The
kingdom is the power of God at work in the present
time, and also in the future when all God’s
plans will have worked out. Jesus in preaching
the Good News from God reminds us that it is
our good fortune to be part of that plan, due
to God’s grace and the guidance of our parents
and community. What am I prepared to make of
this chance on offer so near at hand?
• Perhaps the main temptation Jesus faced was
that of taking short cuts: to impress people
as a miracle worker, to be popular. He keeps
going back to preaching the Kingdom. He rejects
the easier way, for example, to avoid suffering
and his passion. He points out that belonging
to the family of God is more important than
membership of one’s human family. Might I need
to think again about my priorities?
St Augustine [354-430] wrote:
Our pilgrim life on earth cannot be without
temptation for it is through temptation that
we make progress and get to know ourselves.
We cannot win our crown unless we overcome,
and we cannot overcome unless we enter the contest
and there is no contest unless we have an enemy
and the temptations he brings.