Reflection for Sunday 18th February, 2024 - 1st Sunday of Lent
Lent: preparing for Easter (Mark 1:12-15)
Each year, the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. This year we have Mark’s version which does not mention the three specific temptations.
Mark wrote his gospel for the Christians in Rome at a time when Nero’s persecution of Christians had begun.
It was commonly accepted that the world was under the rule of the spirit of evil but a Messiah would come to win back the hearts of people to the Kingdom of God. Now, being persecuted, people were asking,
“Where is God now? Has evil won the battle?”
A Gospel of Drama
In Rome, the most popular writing at the time was drama, and Mark certainly was a dramatist. The actor, Alec McCowen, used the text of Mark for his one-man show on stage. It revealed the drama in Mark that the scholars had scarcely noticed.
At the baptism of Jesus, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, a reminder of the dove bringing the message of the end of the flood which punished sinfulness. Immediately after this, with the haste of a good dramatist, Mark leaps forward to tell us that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness where he remained for forty days and was put to the test by Satan. The characters of the drama were the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and Satan: the wild beasts and the angels formed the chorus line typical of drama at that time.
Forty suggests a time of preparation as in the Exodus, or the walk of Elijah to the holy mountain. After the Resurrection, the apostles had forty days of preparation before the departure of the Lord at his Ascension. Not counting the Sundays, as each Sunday is a miniature Easter, there are forty penitential days between Ash Wednesday and the celebration of Easter
The wilderness, being wild and untamed, was regarded as the home territory of evil spirits. By entering the wilderness Jesus was challenging Satan on his home pitch. The first engagement in this war was a contest between the champion warrior of each side like the old contest between David the Israelite and Goliath the Philistine. Jesus clearly won all three rounds of that first battle, but the war wasn’t over. Mark has more exorcism stories than the other evangelists and he dramatizes each one as another skirmish won by Jesus. The final battle was on Calvary. It looked like victory for Satan but in rising from the dead, in defeating death itself, Jesus has clearly won the war. Mark tells his Roman audience that it was a Roman Centurion who announced the verdict: “In truth this man was Son of God.”
The battles continue
However, the battles have not ceased as we know from our own temptations. Satan hasn’t retired. Jesus warned us that Satan is the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. Satan’s presence is clearly seen today in popular confusion of truth and in anti-life behaviour. God’s kingdom offers truth and fullness of life.
The father of lies knows well that the most effective lie is the half-truth. The apple of temptation always looks attractive but the poison is hidden. Satan cannot enter directly into the soul which is like a city fortified by strong walls. But the devil can start working in the mind through untamed imagination and bitter memories. Classical spiritual writers have identified seven faultlines in our defence, known as the seven deadly sins … pride, covetousness (greed), lust, envy, anger, gluttony, and sloth. Satan played on the greed of Judas to enter his soul.
Wild beasts and angels
In the drama of Jesus in the wilderness, these untamed energies are represented by the Chorus of wild beasts. But God does not leave us alone, and the Chorus of angels who looked after Jesus are here to help us too. The wisdom of the Twelve Steps of rehabilitation recognises the wild beasts in any addiction that has gone out of control. The angels represent the Higher Power offering strength, guidance, and support.
Lent prepares us for Easter
After his forty days of preparation, Jesus was ready to proclaim the beginning of his mission.
“The time has come and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.” Lent is our season to prepare for Easter when we will be asked to reject Satan and all his works and then to commit ourselves to the life of the Gospel. Taking on some form of penance or self-denial will strengthen our will power. Committing ourselves to more prayer and spiritual reading, will bring us closer to the mind and heart of Jesus. Acts of kindness will give body to prayer.
During Lent, accompany Jesus, or, rather, let Jesus accompany you in your preparation for the renewal of your baptismal commitment at Easter. Renewing our baptismal promises is the climax of the liturgical year, the rejection of the lies of Satan and renewal of our commitment to Christ.
Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in our understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.