July 15, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s good news comes from Mark 1:12-13.
At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
Mark gives us scant details about Jesus’ sojourn in the desert for forty days, whereas Matthew and Luke who took much of their material from Mark elaborate a good deal. Matthew and Luke both tell us that Jesus was led by the Spirit, not driven as Mark states. That seems to be quite a distinction to me. To be driven gives me the impression that Jesus didn’t have much choice in the matter while being led seems a much more voluntary acquiescence. Mark also specifies that this happened at once while neither Matthew nor Luke give it the same sense of immediacy or urgency.
Moloney in The Gospel of Mark points out that Jesus was among or with the wild beasts. He believes that this is the key to the temptation story. Jesus was not in fear of the wild beasts as I assumed when read this because I would have been; I would have been obsessed by fear. Moloney thinks that Mark included this detail to show that Jesus’ mission is intended to restore “the original order of God’s creation” as described in Genesis reversing the enmity between man and beasts arising from the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden. “In the Genesis story Satan’s victory over Adam led to hostility and fear.” That’s not what God wants for us; it is what those opposed to Him desire and what still characterizes our world today. Jesus was sent to set the world straight again and to inaugurate the kingdom of God expelling hostility and fear.
It never made much sense to me that God wanted to subject Jesus to temptation. He had just told Jesus that He loved him and was well pleased with him. God had commissioned Jesus to begin his ministry. Now there was an urgency to get going, but first God needed Jesus to know just what he was going to be up against. He would be subject to all the enticements that tempt men and women — self-interest above service, power, and glory — and perhaps the most insidious struggle of all — doubt. Jesus had to work out interiorly, alone in the desert, just how he would fight off the temptations that he would face — temptations that would grow stronger as his own power grew stronger, temptations that would grow stronger still in his final hours of pain and suffering and abandonment. Jesus wasn’t ready to undertake his mission until he was girded to withstand the temptations he would face. It wasn’t a test, it was preparation to enable Jesus to withstand hostility and fear. He was leading the way for us to a new creation, the new genesis of God’s kingdom, harmony between the wild beasts and angels of our human natures.