The 1st Sunday in Lent at St Mark Church in Norman, OK
March 9, 2003
Genesis 9:8-15 + 1 Peter 3:18-22 + Mark 1:12-15
On Lent’s first Sunday, the Gospel tells us something about God something about Jesus, and something about ourselves. What first seems harsh on God’s part with the “driving” of Jesus into the desert and his “testing” there, really reveals God’s intention to preserve and care for those who find themselves tested and tempted by the ministry of the “angels” who protect and comfort those experience this time of trial.
If ever there was an effort to suggest that Jesus “had it made” as God’s Son and was somehow on the fast-track to perfection, Mark makes haste to clear that notion from our heads. Yet there is more to Mark’s dimension of Jesus than simply showing us the human condition Jesus experienced. This combat with Satan does not end here, but this story validates Jesus as the one who will complete the battle as the combat goes on. Victorious here, he has the credentials or the experience to be victorious to the end.
“Forty days” is a long time. Figurative, poetic, symbolic, it does not mean thirty-nine and counting. It means, “a long time.” I’ve begun to suspect that our desert time is our life-time. It’s not that the desert is an ugly place or always frightening, but it isn’t our place it is not the place for which we have been created. Paradise is (to use Biblical language) – and this isn’t it. We have been “driven” here if you will think of the Genesis image of what happened as a result of that sin. But faith tells us that this desert is not where we shall forever be found. But this is the desert time – the time of testing, trial, and temptation, and it lasts a long time, perhaps even a life-time.
These forty spring-time days are an opportunity to look around at where we find ourselves; to take a deep breath and revise our plan for how we are going to get out of here; and take a good look at the guide, Jesus Christ who finally baptized and anointed with the Spirit survives the desert and its temptations to lead those who repent and believe into what he calls: The Kingdom of God.
The image Mark gives as a portrait of Jesus in the desert is a mirror of ourselves. It is the authentic Christian life: wild animals at our feet and angels of mercy just overhead. In this year’s Lent, instead of concentrating only on ourselves our sins, our need for repentance, we might concentrate on this image of Jesus suspended between heaven and hell. It is a time of suspense and conflict filled with awesome possibilities. This gospel drama on Lent’s first Sunday proposes that we move closer to Christ Jesus and trust the mercy message of these angels rather than fear the beasts or doubt our victory.
As we turn the page in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus emerges from the desert to begin his journey seeking people who are willing to repent and believe. That journey will take a turn through Jerusalem with a stop at Calvary and pause in tomb. But for those who keep their eyes on the angels and those who walk with Son of God that will not be the end of the journey. It will simply be the end of desert.