Especially in light of the recent violence, I would like to start out by mentioning that this is a difficult time of the year for many. The combination of overspending at Christmas, the cold weather, and even the lack of daylight make for a significant amount of pain in the lives of many people. Many will turn to violence, alcohol, or other things to lessen that pain.
Lent is here also to remind us of the pain in our lives. Lent is here also to remind us of the pain in the life of Jesus. And it will last for forty days, a significant amount of time here on earth (with its ‘four corners’).
And although we take a step back chronologically in the life of Christ, the gospel text for the First Sunday in Lent is an appropriate one—Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. And although the account of that temptation in the Gospel according to Mark is incredibly small, it is also incredibly interesting.
Mark 1:12 contains the first occurrence of what is often called the ‘historical present’. Usually something that happened in the past is described in the past tense. But sometimes an author will change the tense and describe certain events as if they were happening in the present. This certainly creates an emphasis, but what kind?
A comparison between the gospel accounts in a somewhat literal translation will certainly help to clarify. (And the Christian’s early use of the codex [or book] for the bible helped to promote these kinds of comparisons.)
Matthew 4:1: ‘Then that Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit….’
Luke 4:1: ‘And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness….’
Mark 1:12: ‘And, straightway, the Spirt throws him out into the wilderness….
Using the same word when Jesus cast out the demons, he himself gets cast out into the wilderness. This work of the Spirit, in a sense, is a significantly brutal action. There is a big difference between leading and throwing out someone—you are on opposite sides of the person! The use of this verb prepares us for some of the violence to follow.
Please pardon me for going back to this theme, but one of the ways in which a king showed his authority is by power, action, and even violence. A king without a power is not a true king.
One of the living creatures of God’s throne is the lion, and you do not want to mess with a lion. The Gospel according to Mark is most often connected to the lion, and this is an appropriate connection. In this account, God will often show his power—still in a unique way of course.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, at the end of the temptation, the text says that the devil leaves him. In the Gospel according to Luke, it says that he leaves ‘until an opportune time (4:13).’ There is no talk of the devil leaving in the Gospel according to Mark. The battle rages on.
The threat of violence is clear. God says that things on earth will get worse, not better. We are not talking about evolution, but devolution.
But Jesus already walked this path. He made it safe for us. And he bids us to follow him.