THE DESERT EXPERIENCE – First Sunday of Lent

Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau

       Every year, on the first Sunday of Lent, the gospel is on the temptations of Jesus in the desert. In Mark’s brief narrative of the temptation it is the Spirit who, leads him into the wilderness.

       If “to tempt” is tantamount to “incite to evil,” the Spirit does not do that. There are temptations that are not incitement to evil. These are the times when one is forced to make choices that are conducive occasions to make faith more solid and unwavering.

       Those who want to grow, improve, purify, strengthen their commitment to God cannot be spared from these tests. Not even Jesus was spared and this brings him close to us, placing him on our side because he too “was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15).

       Why does the evangelist place the trial of Jesus in the desert? This was a short period of time that Jesus spent in the desert. Did Mark want to restrict the time when Jesus was tempted, reducing it to the duration of this short experience? It is not possible. The Letter to the Hebrews states that Jesus was was human like us with our difficulties, our anxieties and doubts that instead accompany us throughout life, except sin.

       The number forty is the biblical symbolism to indicate a whole generation, with particular reference to the one who crossed the desert, tempted and died in the wilderness. The whole life of Jesus is thus depicted in these forty days in the wilderness.

Who do the wild animals, and the angels represent? Many believe that, speaking of wild animals becoming tame, Mark refers to the heavenly state, when Adam assigned animals their names and lived with them in perfect harmony (Gen 2:19-20). With the beginning of his public life, Jesus would begin to establish universal peace in the world and new relationships with nature and with animals.

       In the second part of the passage, Mark offers a synthesis of his message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and believe the gospel.” The kingdom of God, for the majority of Israel, pointed to the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and the coming of the messiah to defeat and humiliate the pagan nations. In announcing the nearness of the kingdom of God, Jesus awakened in many, the ancient, dormant hopes; in others distrust, and in some open hostility.

Jesus, instead, envisioned a radically new society. It is no longer domination, but service; not selfish hoarding of goods, the pursuit of self-interest and the race to the top, but the choice to share everything so that no one would be poor; not revenge but forgiveness and unconditional love for the enemy.

For those who believe in the Gospel,  the new ‘Kingdom’ has already risen (2 Cor 5:17).

Translated by Fr John Ledesma SDB

Abridged by Fr Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF

God’s Signs for Our Feeble Minds

Edmond Lo

Seasons come and go. Last winter this time, I resolved to repent all my sins particularly the ones that had persisted year after year. My resolution went well for several weeks. The special Lenten liturgies and prayers definitely helped. But as soon as Lent was over, they crept right back like sneaky thieves, and settled in comfortably once again as part of my life!

This is why we feeble mortals need reminders – physical and visible signs that bring to mind a commitment we made or a relationship we entered into. In this Sunday’s first reading, God enters into a covenant with Noah, using the rainbow as a sign. The visible sign is not so much to remind God, who always remembers, as it is to remind us that between God and men a special covenantal relationship had been established through Noah.

To bring salvation for mankind to fulfillment, God had established five different covenants with us through five key individuals in human history in order to maintain the spiritual unity of his family, each with its own visible sign: through Adam, a husband, to affirm unity through marriage, using Sabbath as a sign; through Noah, a father, to affirm unity through family, using rainbow as a sign; through Abram, a chieftain, to affirm unity through tribe, using circumcision as a sign; through Moses, a judge, to affirm unity through nation, using Passover as a sign; through David, a king, to affirm unity through kingdom, using throne as a sign.  Finally through his Son, a High Priest, unity is affirmed through the Church, using the Eucharist as the sign of his New Covenant (S Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, p 35).

“The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel,” Jesus proclaimed in inaugurating his public ministry (Mk 1:15). In this Lent, let us re-affirm our determination to repent and do penance, knowing that God’s Kingdom, firmly established and perfectly united as one body in virtue of the blood of Christ, is truly at hand. We know not because our imagination tells us so, but because the Old Covenant signs are there to remind us: Sabbath, rainbow, circumcision, Passover, throne – all of which are but transitory signs pointing to the sign of the New and Everlasting Covenant – the Eucharist.


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