s098g^97 Somerton Park+ 16/2/97 First Sunday in Lent
"He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him." Mark 1:13
It is interesting that in the six verses of today's gospel reading we read of Jesus' baptism, the temptation, and the beginning of his ministry. In just one verse Mark summarises the whole forty days in the wilderness! When one reads the gospel of Mark one sometimes feels he is in "fast forward". Everything happens, one thing after another, with no time for explanations given, hardly time to breathe.
I must admit I don't really like Lent. Of course as soon as I say this, someone will say: "Of course, you're not supposed to like Lent! Lent wouldn't be Lent if you liked it!" It might have something to do with the fact that when I was young we only had holidays at Easter (my father was in the retail trade). So Lent was always rather terminated at Maundy Thursday - one could almost say it was a case of "coitus interuptus". Another reason might be that I've never been terribly good on abstinence - Catherine will readily attest to the truth of this. I have been thinking recently however that the reason goes somewhat deeper than this. I read the gospel readings set for Lent and I find wonderful stories of conflict and victory, of which the temptation in the wilderness is but one. The Church seems to talk about fairly sedentary and mundane pastimes: prayer, fasting and alms giving.
Temperamentally I've never been into musicals. I've never actually been to a theatre production of any musical except "Jesus Christ Superstar" but that was a different matter. The old time romantic song and dance productions, are a bit like opera too, I don't really click in to. They seem artificial, contrived. I would probably thoroughly enjoy being in the cast of such a production, but otherwise it's hard for me to get involved. So Lent has appeared to me a touch artificial, contrived.
I am a person of action, the classic workaholic! In some senses I want to be in the fight not sitting on the sidelines.
Humanity has always wrestled and fought. The tiny snippet of the gospel story speaks of Jesus fighting the temptation of Satan. We need however to be a little careful, for it is the Spirit which drives Jesus there. We find a repetition of the picture of Satan in the early chapters of Job. Here Satan is thought of as one of the heavenly beings - the sons of God - who come to present themselves before God. (Job 1.6) Humanity fights not just against Satan, but against God. In chapter 32 of Genesis, Jacob wrestles with God, wrestles to gain a blessing from him. Jacob prevails over God, but the conflict made Jacob limp and he was renamed "Israel".
I find it interesting that in the battle Jesus wages with Satan, Satan is defeated. In the fight that Jacob wages with God to gain a blessing, Jacob is the winner. In both cases humanity comes out on top.
Life itself is often a wrestle. It is not just that some think that they have to defeat those around them in a struggle to get to the top over others; it can be as simple as trying to keep up the mortgage repayments, and the bank-card bills in check. It can also be altruistic, as we seek justice which seems to be denied others. It is not necessarily a fair world. While some seem to sail through it, the reality is that most of us struggle for a better part of the time.
It seems to me to be this that the temptation in the wilderness really points to. Jesus comes to life as it is really lived. The temptations to which we are not privy from Mark's account are the same temptations we face. We too can find God in the wilderness times of our lives, in the times when we struggle and protest at the injustices wrought upon ourselves and others. In the times when we recognise that the world is not a fair place.
I have always had this theory that as soon as one finds a scheme to save a little money, someone else finds a way to take it from you. It might be the Federal Treasurer, the Bank Manager, or the person offering the latest in computer technology! There are endless people who will gladly relieve us of any spare cash we might have. There are the wild beasts.
But also there are the angels too, just as there were angels in the wilderness where the Spirit drove Jesus. We live this life among others, others who are not intent on parting us from our savings. There are those whose lives are spent on seeking to help us become the person we were made in the beginning. We have only to look at mothers and fathers, spouses, teachers and even (dare I say sometimes) priests. When one thinks about it that constitutes a fair proportion of the population.
We do not have to find a wilderness similar to the wilderness the Spirit drove Jesus to, to experience things spiritual - conflict and victory. We can find God in all sorts of places, and especially in all sorts of people. Some people find God in the serenity of a garden or in the majesty of a sunset. Myriads of people have followed the psalmist and looked to the stars and wondered at the majesty of God. Simeon and Anna found God in an isolated helpless baby brought to the Temple by his peasant parents. People find God in the sacrament of the Altar, in the silence of prayer, in the little things we do for God each Lent. We find God in people who are there to stand along side us, not necessarily to hold our hands all the time, but to be there when things get tough.
If we concentrate on the sheer number of beasts we might easily be overwhelmed. On the other hand we can look for the angels and it can be surprising when we count them up. For we do not have to fight (as Jacob did) to win a blessing from God. The blessings of God are all around us - we only need eyes to see them. They are there for the taking - for the taking and sharing.
And so shifting the metaphor once again, we can be an angel (or heaven forbid - one of the beasts) as we stand alongside another. As we allow another to become the person they were made "in the beginning" we can be one of those angels where others see God in us. As we allow people to be the person they are rather than wrestling them into someone we think might be better, then we will indeed find people will praise God for us.
And so Lent only tells us like it is for the whole of our lives. It is not contrived or artificial - it is the stuff of real life, life in all its fullness. Life with challenges, successes and failures, powerful and subtle opposition, but more than this, angels to help and succour us. None of us are alone.
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