Ordinary time is on hold. Today is the first Sunday in Lent and Mark propels us into the desert with Christ, for forty days. We too enter the desert with Christ for the next forty days. We will be tempted by Satan, no matter what we have chosen to give up on this path. Wild beasts will taunt us. Most importantly, Angels will wait upon us. Now is the time to repent and believe in the Good News. Now is the time to set out upon that path that will transform us into a newer, and hopefully, more whole, person.
When I took my Introduction to Religious Studies class several years ago, I suddenly heard the harshness of Mark’s words and had to debrief after class with the instructor about what it meant. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. Did that mean Jesus did not want to go? Did it mean that the Spirit will drag us kicking and screaming to places we do not want to go? This was not a pleasant aha moment. The other two Synoptic Gospels are gentler with the Spirit leading Christ to the wilderness. The other Gospels also expand on the experience and show how Christ beats Satan in his own games by standing firm against the temptations. The starkness of Mark brings home the reality of how Satan works.
As we begin this Lenten journey, maybe we too need to know that we can survive the starkness of what is to come. My own health issues dominate this Lent. I am a little hesitant to step out on the path and yet I am already on it and there is no turning back. There will be wild beasts growling and gnashing their teeth as I try to walk one step at a time. They want me to be distracted and fearful; they want to scare me. I lean on the strength of the One who has been there. I know that Angels are waiting on me. Jesus who is fully human and fully divine was tempted. He knows the walk. We can learn something from Him if we pay attention.
There was no magic wand to get Jesus out of the desert before the forty days ended. He remained there with Satan and the wild beasts badgering Him. Sometimes our journeys in the desert seem longer than necessary. We want to flee but there are lessons in the desert. If Jesus had the stamina to stay in it and acknowledge that the Kingdom of God was near, maybe, just maybe, we can too. These forty days are no longer ordinary. They are different, holding opportunities that we may not have wished for but that we cannot flee from. Lent drives us into the wilderness with our own inner beasts and Satan hounding us down the path. May we go with the Angels who wait upon us and find strength that we did not know we had.