First Sunday of Lent [Mk 1:12-15]
18 February 2018
The Temptation of Jesus and Beginning of His Public Ministry
Readings: (1) Gen 9:8-15 (2) 1 Pet 3:18-22
Theme in brief:
Our struggle against temptations
Lent is a God-appointed time for us to examine how far we have deviated from our faith-commitment made at baptism, and to decide to live the gospel of Christ in a more radical manner.
Explanation of the text
Though the account of Jesus’ temptation in today’s gospel according to Mark is very brief, it is rich in itssymbolic meaning. We are surprised to read that the same Spirit who descended on Jesus at his baptism now drove him into the wilderness or desert (1:12). The strong word "drive" used here may refer to an inner urge in Jesus under the influence of the Spirit to go into the wilderness or desert to spend a quiet time of encounter with God before beginning his public ministry. But there he had to encounter temptations of Satan as well. Mark links the temptations of Jesus to his baptism by saying that he was tempted by Satan "immediately" after his baptism (1:12). Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not tell us about the exact nature of his temptations. But we can very well imagine that they were against hisdecision and commitment at baptism to be faithful to his mission of service unto death. Satan stands for everything, every force that is against God and his ways.
The fourty-day period of his temptations (1:13) is not meant to be taken literally but in the biblical sense of a longer or considerable period of time; in fact till his death. Even while dying, his temptations came from the mouths of passers-by who challenged him to come down from the cross (Mk 15:29-30). Mark tells us that Jesus had an encounter of fiercely contrasting forces in the desert (1:13): both the evil spirit (Satan) and Good Spirit (Holy Spirit); the wild beasts (representing Satan’s army) and the holy angels(representing God’s army). Biblical scholars can only guess what Mark had in mind: (1) may be a reference to the messianic age foretold by prophet Isaiah when wolf and lamb, lion and little child would live together in peace (Isaiah 11:6-9); or (2) may be he wanted to portray Jesus as the New Adam who overcame Satan’s temptations, whereas the first Adam in the Garden of Eden had failed. Thus, he restoredthe peace and harmony of the paradise destroyed by the fall of Adam; or he regained the lost paradise. Theministering angels (1:13) may indicate this: (1) Jesus was preserved from being torn into pieces by wild beasts in the wilderness because of the special care and protection of God through his angels; or (2) God did not leave Jesus alone in a time of temptation but gave his protection through his angels.
After winning a victory over Satan’s tests, Jesus began his public ministry with the proclamation of thesummary or the main theme of his preaching, that is God’s rule of total and unconditional love(technically, God’s Kingdom) had come on earth in his person (1:14-15). Mark begins this central theme by saying that Jesus had come to proclaim the good news of God (1:14). God’s good news was that his love and salvation had now come very near to all in the person of Jesus (1:15). [In fact, Jesus himself was (is) God’s Good News in person.] The time of waiting (the long period of OT in which the Kingdom was promised) was fulfilled (completed) with the arrest of John the Baptist. God’s appointed time or the time planned (fixed) by him to begin a new age or rule was near for all who were willing to receive it.
How should one respond to the challenge of the breaking good-news of God’s Kingdom? In two ways: by (1) repenting or changing one’s ways and (2) believing in the good news (1:15). To ‘repent’ means more than feeling sorry for one’s personal sins, but a change of mind/ attitude/ life-style. To ‘believe’ does not mean to believe in a doctrine as we do while reciting "I believe" (the Creed). It means to beattached to the person of Jesus or to have a deep faith or trust in him. It also means to live according to the gospel of Christ.
Application to life
A temptation is basically a test of faith or a test which reveals whether we are faithful to God or not. We are tempted throughout our life, not to put our faith and trust in God, or not to live by our faith. Sometimes we are even tempted to make Jesus come down from the cross and save us miraculously from all calamities and suffering, just as the passers-by did during his crucifixion. Traditionally a temptation is also understood as an inducement to sin. It is not a sin in itself, but an inclination towards it. It is only a testwhich can either make or beak us. If we do not yield to it, it can make us strong in faith.
Now we can understand why the Holy Spirit drove Jesus towards temptation according to today’s gospel text. We are used to understand a temptation only in the negative sense that it necessarily ruins us. Bydriving Jesus into the desert for prayer and solitude, the Holy Spirit wanted to prepare him to face tests against his baptismal commitment so that he could come out strong. In baptism, we make a commitmentto worship God alone and promise to be faithful to the mission of Christ. Just like Jesus we too are tempted to deviate from our baptismal call and mission. Lent is a time to examine whether we have fallen prey to Satan’s temptations to go against our faith-commitment made at baptism, and to renew that commitment by returning to God and his ways. For this we need to make use of various spiritual means such as regular prayer, penance, works of charity, Word of God, reception of sacraments with proper disposition (especially the sacrament of reconciliation).
Lent is also a time to fight against evil tendencies and forces within and around us with God’s power so that we can experience the peace and harmony of the Garden of Eden. Just as God’s protective Spirit was with Jesus when he struggled against the test and allurement of the Evil Power in the desert, now also Jesus’ protecting Spirit is with his disciples in their desert experience or struggle against personal weaknesses. God’s protection comes to us from our communion with him through spiritual means already mentioned above. When we possesses sufficient spiritual energy, ‘wild animals’ (evil forces) cannot do harm to us.
Lent is a period of desert experience of prayer and penance for us so that we get enlightenment to distinguish between God’s voice and the Satan’s voice; between wild beasts and holy angels who waited on Jesus. Wild beasts represent all the evil as well as violent forces in our world or society such as terrorism, violence, hatred, crimes against humanity and God’s creation (such as environmental destruction). They also represent something of the wild beast or violent tendencies in all of us lurking at the door. The Bible says that we must master them (Gen 4:7). When we read the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-16) we come to know how Cain’s envy and anger towards his brother Abel ended up in hatred and cold-blooded murder. We have to admit that there is a Cain sitting inside of each one of us who gives in to aggressiveand violent behaviour against his brothers and sisters. If violence which is inherent in human nature is not contained or mastered, it will create havoc in human/social relationships and contribute to the all-prevailing culture of violence in our world. Here the term ‘culture’ refers to attitudes and behaviour which accept violence as an inevitable way of life. All-prevailing violence in our society causes threat to human life. Like Cain we too try to cover-up our guilt and refuse to accept responsibility for containing the escalating violence in our society by saying: "Am I my brother's keeper (Gen 4:9)?" God’s voice coming from his Word resounds before us in Lent more loudly than other times: "Are you also not responsible(at least indirectly) for the prevailing culture of violence in the world?"
The peaceful co-existence of Jesus with the wild animals in the wilderness (which did no harm to him) as per today’s gospel text, symbolizes for us the need to create a culture of active non-violence which is life-promoting. In this Lent Jesus invites us to become active in overcoming violent tendencies within us and in our communities, instead of merely feeling sad about it or becoming passive spectators. Unlike the first Adam who yielded to Satan’s temptation to be like God and spoiled the harmony of Paradise, we are called to imitate the Second Adam (Jesus) to restore it by overcoming Satan’s temptation with the protectionof God or with the spiritual power that comes from him. Personally we can promote non-violence in various (direct or indirect) ways, such as (1) by consciously cultivating non-violent language in our speech and teaching the same to our children;
(2) by following the path of non-aggressive behaviour in our personal lives; and (3) by cooperating with so many good willed people in our world who promote non-violence.
We can decide to take up a self-imposed Lenten penance to consciously avoid not only abusive language but also rough/ rude/ unkind/ violent words such as "bash", "bang", "smash", "thrash", "hammer", "shoot" or "kick" so and so. Also we can decide to avoid threatening and ‘subtly bloodthirsty’ words such as, "I’ll show him/her…" or "I’ll teach him/her a lesson…" Parents/ teachers/ managers/ administrators/ superiors could make an effort not to use violent/ insulting/ abusive words towards their children/ students/ workers/ employees/ subjects such as, "fool", "stupid", "good-for-nothing", "ass", and "lazy goose". When we live with people of other races/ caste/ ethnicity/ religious faiths we should make conscious efforts to totally avoid name-calling done on them by other people. Observe how children imitate this language from their parents and companions. Further, we need to examine whether we indulge in any form of domestic violence against women or our domestic helps.
Lent is also the most opportune or fitting time for us to respond in a better way to the Good News of God as proclaimed by Jesus as he began his public ministry. Lent can become God’s appointed time for us to change the direction of our life and to be converted to the values of God’s Kingdom or to live the gospel more radically. In simple terms, we can understand the Kingdom of God to mean living a qualitativelydifferent way of life in which God’s values taught by Jesus (such as sacrificial love, humble service, unconditional forgiveness, active concern for the needy) become the rule. When we try to live these gospel values, we find that sin/ evil/ selfishness are obstacles to its path. Removal of these obstacles necessarily leads to repentance. Hence, believing in the Good News involves a conversion to the gospel-way of life from worldly/ evil/ selfish ways. In this Lent, it is right and proper that we examine how much percentage of our life is in line with the gospel of Christ and try to ‘upgrade’ our Christian life with the spiritual means already mentioned above.
Response to God's Word
Are we faithful to our baptismal promises of renouncing Satan and his pomp – implying all evil forces and violent tendencies? What is our plan to seek God’s protection and to fight evil forces (sinfulness) during this Lenten Season? What can we do this Lent to deepen our trust and faith in God as our only source to fight against temptations against our baptismal commitment? What are we doing to have a ‘desert experience’ in this Lent? Are we attuned to the Spirit so that he drives us to such places as he drove Jesus? Do we consciously strive to master something of the wild beast lurking at our door? How can we create a culture of active non-violence? How can we ‘upgrade’ our Christian life with Lenten practices?
Lord Jesus, just like you we too are often tempted not to be faithful to our baptismal promises as well as the mission which you have entrusted to us. We believe that you are with us in our struggle and give us the strength to face these temptations because you too were tested like us. Give us the grace to make decisive choice for God’s values and always to say ‘no’ to the ways of the world. Send forth your Spirit and purify our minds from all violent attitudes, motives and ways of thinking and grant that we may create a culture of active non-violence in our society. Amen.