First Sunday of Lent - 18th February, 2018

Liturgical Reflection

Mark 1: 12-15

First Sunday of Lent

‘Jesus of Montreal’ a movie of some years ago, portrayed Jesus as resisting three major temptations. These were not in the desert but in a modern, western city. I thought the movie a compelling and inspiring 'new' interpretation of this familiar account as given by Matthew and Luke.

Mark's account is different: no descriptions of temptations but honed down to three short verses that come after Jesus is baptized and proclaimed as Son of God. The first is that Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days being ‘tested’ by Satan. (Brendan Byrne1 says that in the context, ‘tested’ is more accurate than ‘tempted). Then we are told simply that he was with the beasts and the angels ministered to him.

The revelation of Jesus as the Son God must have had an enormous impact on Jesus. We can understand that he needed to be alone, to grapple with what this meant and how he was to fulfil the mission. A desert is a place of aridity and beauty at the same time; where one is stripped of accessories and props and must face truth and reality, especially about oneself.

I am drawn to the suggestion (as in the painting by Stanley Spence) that the beasts were not roaring lions, for he shows Jesus with the animals in a peaceful calm scene. To me the ‘beasts’ represent our humanity, violent yet beautiful: our oneness with all living matter on the planet. Jesus was part of this in his humanity, flesh and blood, forever. The angels are for me a symbol of the spiritual also embedded deeply in the human person. Is this not the struggle all of us experience? The mystery of our humanity, the human and the divine within, and how to be sons and daughters of God?

I find signs important in everyday life, seeing them as pointers that can bring grace and energy. In this account the voice proclaiming Jesus as Son of God was obviously a huge pointer to send Jesus into the desert. The arrest of John the Baptist comes as another sign that it is time for Jesus to come to Galilee and proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near.

In the words of Verna Holyhead2, let us remember that ‘the desert is not under our feet, but in our hearts. Its grit is the daily irritations and indefinable loneliness we often feel.’ May we be attuned to the signs in our lives, knowing that the angels are there ready to minister to us. We need not fear to be driven on to the unfamiliar or to be daring and trusting in fulfilling our calling.

June Peck OP 

1 Brendan Byrne, Costly Freedom, p 33.
2 V. Holyhead, Sowing the Seed, p 34.