1st Sunday of Lent, Gospel of Mark 1:12-15
Mark’s account of Jesus’s desert journey is in stark contrast to Matthew’s and Luke’s account. In typical Markan fashion he refrains from including the details which he considered non-essential. Readers of his Gospel are not privileged to Jesus’s dialogue with Satan or the specific nature of the temptations. Instead, Mark only states that Jesus was “drove” out into the desert, he was “tempted” by Satan, and surrounded by “wild beasts”. This account lacks the drama and pageantry of his Synoptic Gospel counterparts.
Yet, strangely, Mark’s concise account of Jesus’ 40-day desert trial has a certain attraction. The idea of going off into a deserted and desolate place, with the opportunity to overcome personal weakness, and draw closer to God is, too me, quite appealing. I do know that I am not alone in thinking this way, because throughout the history of the Church men and women have left off the trappings, possessions, and distractions of “normal” daily life seeking a deeper more dependent relationship with God. It started with St. Paul of Thebes, followed by St. Anthony of Egypt, who was then followed by thousands of men and women seeking God in the deserted places.
However, I must confess that the idea of leaving the complications attached with possessions is, for me, an extremely attractive idea. In fact, I once asked a monk if there was any precedence or protocol that would allow for a Deacon to join their order. He just looked at me and walked away mumbling something about “being disordered” and the “dismal state” of the Church.
Now, that was not the worst of it, because, for some reason, I chose to ask my monk friend this question in the presence of my wife. It did not take too long after those ridiculous words left my mouth before I felt the cold icy stare of my wife’s enchanting blue eyes piercing the back of my skull. Oh, she waited… and once we were together in our “isolated place”, absent witnesses, she had a few things to say about how I might find living in a monastery with a bunch of old men more appealing then living with her.
In today’s Gospel we find clear instructions to those who seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus ventured into the deserted places out of obedience and necessity, and in so doing clearly established the model. Without the encumbrance of detail, Mark clearly communicates that those who seek Jesus must too also venture out into the desert.
Using today’s Gospel as a guide I am proposing 3 reasons why, as followers of Christ, we too must venture out into the deserted places.
The 1st reason is obedience. Mark clearly states that Jesus was “drove out by the Spirit.” The literal Greek wording for this phrase is translated, “impelled to step out”. The Spirit of God “impelled” Jesus to step out… away from… the normal routine of life and go into a place where necessity was the priority.
Recognizing that we are all called to live in the state and in the place at which we exist we must not allow to be an excuse to abandon our responsibilities. Rather it is an opportunity to identify specific things, habits, practices, and behaviors that are unnecessary, and then set them aside. Out of obedience we are obligated, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to honestly examine ourselves. To identify that which encumbers us, and then, in faith, step away from them.
The second reason we are called out into the desert is for ministry. But, not in the way in which you might think. Rather, we are called to enter the desert so that God can minister to us. Mark’s Gospel is clear when it states, “and the angels ministered to him.”
Let not my words be confusing. The desert is difficult. When one ventures out into the deserted places one will encounter temptation. One will encounter hardship. One will encounter struggle, difficulties, and discouragement for, after all, it is a desert. However, by God’s mysterious design, and in his infinite mercy, when we enter the desert we are allowing God to minister to us in a way which was not been previously available.
In the original Greek, which is translated in English, “the angels ministered”, portrays the image of a servant serving at a table.
I recall a time when Kristina and I spent one Valentine’s evening in Chicago, Illinois. We were in Chicago visiting a friend who happened to be a Sommelier at this ultra-fine eating establishment. He had made arrangements for us to enjoy our Valentine’s dinner at his restaurant as his guests. First, I will tell you the food was magnificent and second, the service was amazing. Our glasses never went empty. We did not even have to pour our own wine. The magnificently prepared and presented plates of food were brought and then removed as if by magic, and not once did we have to ask for anything. Although the restaurant was entirely full of paying patrons we felt as if our table was the only one that mattered. It was an absolutely wonderful experience… and that is the image that comes to mind when I read the phrase, “the angels ministered to him.”
The third reason why we must go out to the desert is found in the 14th verse of Mark’s gospel; “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.”
When we go out into the desert we do so for a period of time. A time of refinement. A time of preparation. A time with purpose. God does not call us out to the deserted places on a whim. He calls us out to the deserted places because he wants us to return to a purpose.
Following John the Baptists arrest, Jesus returned from the desert and began to preach and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus’s time in the desert; the trial, the temptation, the ministry of the angels, prepared him to engage in the mission for which he was called.
Today, this 1st Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of our desert journey. When we respond in obedience to God’s calling, we do so in the knowledge that we too shall encounter trial and temptation. We too, do so in the knowledge that God will not abandon us. He will not turn his back from us. And when, at the completion of our 40 days Lenten journey, we return from the desert we will be prepared to engage in the mission for which we are called.
Our challenge this day, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is to approach this Lenten desert journey in the full knowledge that upon its conclusion God will have prepared us for his service. There is a unique and vital ministry awaiting each one of us this coming Easter morning, and I for one eagerly await the great work for his Kingdom to which we all will be called.