FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT – B
Mark 1: 12-15
Shortly after His baptism, Jesus prepared to embark on His public ministry by staying in the desert for forty days. This is the reason why we read the account of the temptation in the desert during the first Sunday of Lent: the Church has entered into a forty day journey just like Jesus; we also enter this personal journey but this time in the desert of our hearts!
The account of St. Mark which we read this Sunday differs from the accounts of St. Luke and St. Matthew in terms of details and theology, although they are about the same event. Mark’s account must have been the oldest among the three being the first gospel to be written and it could have been a “teaching story” that had circulated among the early Christian communities. St. Mark presents Jesus as the New Adam who after defeating Satan inaugurated a paradise-state of the messianic era.
The desert has always been believed to be the domain of the devil being a harsh and unfriendly place. Entering into a state of prayerful retreat with His Father, Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, defeated Satan in his very own terrain. Being the embodiment of the law and the prophets of the Old Testament, he fasted for forty days the way Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) fasted for forty days. In rabbinic and apocalyptic literature, the number forty refers to a complete period of time which we see throughout the scriptures. Because Jesus was about to embark on a very important mission, that is the spread of the Kingdom of God, he was tempted by the devil not to pursue the mission. St. Mark does not write the three temptations like St. Matthew and St. Luke. In the wilderness, Jesus was with wild beasts which indicates peaceful and friendly coexistence and the arrival of the messianic era. When angels ministered to him, this shows that where the first Adam fell, Jesus as the New Adam is now victorious over Satan hence the restoration of the lost Eden.
The second part of the gospel this Sunday is the inauguration of that messianic era in Galilee. This is seen in the very first spoken words of Jesus in the gospel of Mark: “The time is fulfilled…” This time is kairos, a divine time, as compared to chronos which is a calendar time. Then Jesus proclaimed “The Kingdom of God is close at hand.” That is the gospel, the Good News! It was a proclamation that Jesus Himself was the Kingdom-personified (auto-basilea). Then the condition in the acceptance of that Kingdom is “Repent, and believe the gospel.”
There is an inherent goodness in all of us, a pulsating energy that swells out and seeks for creative expressions which is the manifestation of the divine consciousness that was gifted to us when we were born. Yet at the same time there is also a desert deep within us trying to pull us towards the opposite direction away from goodness. We call this in theology as concupiscence. Our heart is a battlefield between good and evil. Humanly speaking, our nature is prone to fall because of our weakness as creatures. All of us have been tempted, and will always be tempted; left alone to ourselves, we will not survive. That is why Jesus has entered into the desert of our lives to strengthen us in grace. We are never alone! As long as we are faithful to Him, as He was faithful to the Father, we will also be victorious over the countless temptations that will come along our way.