Jesus’ forty-day stay in the desert follows immediately the story of his baptism; at that event, the Spirit comes upon him and he is revealed as the Son of God.
It is this Spirit which drives him, almost violently, out into the wilderness. It is better that we appreciate this episode as Jesus “being tested”, rather than “being tempted”: in modern speech temptation is usually associated with sin, or at least with something wrong or not quite right. It is much more serious than that: it centres on how Jesus understands what it means to be the Son of God. Before Jesus begins his public ministry, it is important that he be put to this test. We might note that although Satan is mentioned, Satan is merely the agent, the means: it is the Spirit who subjects Jesus to the ordeal.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark gives us no details about Jesus’ struggle, he simply reports the fact. Jesus’ fast of forty days recalls those of Moses and Elijah: the mention of the number forty also evokes the memory of Israel’s experience in the desert during the Exodus journey, during which the people were tested “to see what was in their heart”. Wild beasts are often associated in the Bible with powers opposed to God, but there is
also a positive vision of human beings living peacefully with such other creatures. Later in Mark, the evangelist will present the vision of a new creation.
Once Jesus has passed the test, he is ready to undertake his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God and sets off into Galilee.
What are you giving up for Lent? Perhaps someone has asked you this already. Many people see Lent as an endurance test: if they manage to reach Easter with their resolution intact, they can take some pride in the fact; if they have broken their resolution, they can feel downhearted and defeated – again! But this is to miss the point: such an attitude is, literally, self-centred – we are concentrated on ourselves and our own efforts, whereas
the season of Lent is all about ourselves and our relationship with God.
One of the purposes of fasting is to make us more spiritually aware: the less our body has to do, the more heightened our spiritual senses can be. If we eat or drink less and spend more time in quiet prayer, then all sorts of thoughts will arise in our mind. The lack of distraction can be very unsettling: we may be faced with all sorts of uncomfortable questions that we would rather not think about. It might help us to remember that even Jesus had
to struggle with questions about himself before he could embark on his public mission as the Son of God empowered by the Spirit. We are daughters and sons of God through baptism: this Lent, the Spirit is asking us to reflect on how we each understand that truth. Difficult, perhaps, but worth the effort.
Lord, make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour.
- It is better to understand Jesus’ experience in the desert as his being “tested” rather than “tempted”.
- Fasting is a means of heightening our spiritual awareness and perception.
- It is the Spirit which puts Jesus to the test: Satan is simply the means by which this is achieved.
Prepare a container of some sort for the money you will save from your Lenten penance. One of the practices of Lent is almsgiving; what we put aside, we are supposed to give to charity, which is the modern form of almsgiving.