My Dear Good People,
In today’s Gospel reading we come with Jesus to the desert, led by the Spirit, where He is tempted by the devil and remains for forty days and forty nights in fasting and prayer. As I noted on Wednesday, this was the first ever Lent. There are three aspects of today’s very short reading from Mark 1:12-15 that we might consider: the desert, the devil and his wily temptations, and Jesus’ fasting. Let’s look at the desert.
Most of us have never seen the desert, though some may actually live in the desert here in the States. Deserts can be hostile places, and they surely were in the time of Jesus. In the heat of the day one longs for the cool of the evening. In the freezing temperatures of the night one hopes for the warmth of the dawn. There is the frightening lack of water– thirst can be deadly if we come unprepared into the wild space. And the loneliness of the desert can be shattering if one were to spend any time there. So we wonder why Jesus chose to go there to prepare for his public life, why He so often returned there to pray at the end of a day of preaching and healing later on.
Getting away from the bustle of civilization can be daunting. But within us there’s a need to turn from the ordinary and retire to a solitude that’s unpredictable and costly to our human nature. Strange, isn’t it, the way that our higher selves know intuitively what is best for us, but our lower selves resist it. Jesus invites us to meet Him in the desert during these weeks of Lent, and we can begin today, if we haven’t already, quietly letting go of the things that tie us to the ordinary and move gently into the embrace of the desert with Jesus in prayer. Be careful, though. There are scorpions: stinging things that can be frightening, lurking things that creep up on us to poison the beauty of our Lenten program. Jesus had His temptations. We will have ours.
Let us set aside a few minutes each day, in a quiet place where we can see into our own soul as it meets the soul of Jesus, and open ourselves to His saving mercy. We’ll sit near him, on a rocky crag or behind a dune there in the Middle Eastern desert, where we can begin to heal from the storms of the city. We can ask Jesus to teach us the way of holiness that always tries to hold close the Will of the Father as Jesus did, even in the face of the wiles of the evil one. We want to listen to His words at the end of this reading:
This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.
We need not be afraid. The desert will protect us after all because Jesus is there. Allow Him to be the oasis of peace in our loneliness, our thirst, and our frozen efforts at making the most of Lent.
He’s waiting for us. You’ll recognize Him; He will be the One with His arms wide open.
God bless you.