The other day, I met a young man as I was coming into our Parish Church to prepare for the Ash Wednesday evening Mass. He wanted to know if there is an evening service in the Church. I told him to come back at 6 pm and attend to the Mass which I would be saying. As he was leaving I inquired for his name. He answered readily and even added that he actually belongs to an Anglican communion in the surrounding area. Hearing that, I was impressed and awed of him. I am so impressed to hear of this young man in his early teens, observing the importance of Ash Wednesday for his faith. Something must have happened in his life and in his own personal faith. God must have touched him in a more personal and intimate way. Only God knows. But I’m sure that that ‘something’ happening in him must have helped him make the decision to look for the Church that has Ash Wednesday Evening service no matter if it is Catholic Church or whatever. I am just very happy and privileged to meet such a person.
Friends, I am telling you this story because of our Gospel today. We are looking at the very heart of the gospel message of Jesus here in the Gospel of Mark 1:12-15, in which Jesus openly proclaims the kingdom of God. But prior to this courageous act of proclaiming a ‘new message’ for the ‘old audiences’, something also has happened to Jesus. We heard in the gospel that Jesus is seemed to be so convinced of his mission that he can say with confidence ‘The time is at hand…repent and believe the Good News.’ We might wonder how can Jesus urge his audience with such urgency. Something must have helped him make a firm and good decision to start doing his mission. But to look at what could have happened to Jesus, means to journey with him. And there is no more proper time than this Lenten time wherein we are invited to journey with Jesus on this way to the cross. Let us realize too, that lent is a journey towards Easter- the momentous event of our salvation and God’s greatest gift for us. So to re-call, to re-present the history of our salvation and to celebrate our salvation once again we are invited to walk with Jesus as he walks on the way of the Cross.
First Stop: Mk 1:12-15.
There are five things according to Mark that have happened to Jesus in the wilderness. These things might have helped him decide to go on with his mission to proclaim the Kingdom. First, he was driven by the Spirit of God. Second he stayed in the wilderness to pray and fast for forty long days. Third, he was living with the wild beasts. Fourth he was tempted by the evil one. And fifth, he was looked after by the angels.
In our first stop, we find the person of Jesus as recounted by Mark 1:12-15, doing his 40 long days of silence, prayer and fasting in the wilderness, then being tempted by Satan, then proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom.
First Jesus makes himself available for the Spirit of God to work and motivate him. And these Spirit helps him to discern between the real-life- giving word and the false and deadly words of the tempter. This same Spirit is also getting through to work in us. And our time and age is in fact a ripe time for us, that like Jesus, we will make ourselves available for God’s spirit to guide and help us as we journey especially when all sorts of temptations are just there really close to us every moment, everyday.
Second, Jesus stayed in the wilderness in fasting and prayer. Jesus gives time for God always. And this is one secret of his ‘success’ if you like to call it that way. He is always grounded in God his Father, to do his will always, and to promote the kingdom of God. Learning from Jesus, we are also called to give ample time in silence, prayer and fasting with our God. With God we can be assured of his help and mercy, as well as protection and care as long as we keep grounded in him.
Third, Jesus was living with the wild beasts. Mark didn’t mention any struggle on Jesus’ part against the presence of the wild beasts. Scripture commentators would say that this specific passage shows us that Jesus gives us a glimpse of the original harmony which was broken when our first parents disobeyed God. Commentators would say that Jesus living in ‘harmony’ with the wild beasts, on one hand, expresses the reality of our being creatures before the fall of Adam and on the other hand, it shows what we will become in the future if we keep our eyes focused on the Kingdom of God. In our time surely, we realize we are surrounded by many different kinds of beasts (temptations, trends, materialism, consumerism, instant gratification, etc). Jesus in our gospel offers us a way to deal with this- i.e. not to be affected by them or not to be defeated by these kind of beasts. Like Jesus, we can subject these beasts at our service if we just don’t allow ourselves to be lost and totally immersed in the process.
Fourth, Jesus was tempted. There are three ways by which Jesus was tempted according to the Matthew and Luke. He was told to turn the stones into bread- the temptation about immediacy, instant gratification and impatience. But He didn’t give in. He stood firm in his ground. Then the tempter told him to jump off the cliff for he will not be hurt anyway for he will be saved by the angels. This temptation is about taking short cuts to attain our dreams. But no, Jesus didn’t give in. He stood firm on his ground. For us being the disciples of Jesus, we are not to expect short cuts. It is a process. Jesus himself reminds us this: ‘If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, everyday.’ Then Jesus was tempted to worship Satan in exchange of all the kingdoms and the splendour of the world. Jesus again, stood firm in his ground. He didn’t give in, telling the tempter not to test the Lord. Sometimes we tend to do this as well. We tend to test God. We tend to bargain with God. But God knows more than we do. Only God can give us all the things that we need in life. If we think we’re getting it from somebody else, let’s review our order of priorities.
Fifth, Jesus was looked after by the angels. God knows Jesus needs assurance, care and protection. So he sent his angels to assist him in his needs. God knows more than we do. He just couldn’t leave us with nothing or no one to turn to. But like Jesus we are also called to be faithful to him, to stand for him, no matter what happens, or no matter how will it cost for us. We know as we continue to follow Jesus that Lent is not all there is. After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.
Five things have happened to Jesus in 40 days. Those things have helped him shape his decision to start proclaiming his mission and to be so committed to realizing even to the extent of giving up his very life. In our 40 days of Lenten journey with Jesus, as we move on to the second stop (2nd Sunday of Lent) let’s reflect on the things that might happen to us as God’s way of expressing his love and care for all of us. We might be surprised to see how wonderful God would work in and through us in this time, if we only allow him to be. And with God’s help we might make use of those things to be tools for the renewal of our Christian commitment of loving God and our neighbours as we love ourselves and as we celebrate the saving love of our God.