The gospel passage from Mark (1:12-15) for the 1st Sunday of Lent this year (B) may give us a clue. It is very short: all it tells us is that “The spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and…he was tempted by Satan. While he was there, he was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him”. There is no account of specific temptations as we find in Matthew and Luke.
I would like to suggest that, taking Mark’s account as our context, we reflect briefly on the theme of wilderness in our Christian lives. As we do so, we will keep in mind that beautiful promise made by God in Hosea: “I will lure her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her heart.”(2:14).
In our Judaeo-Christian tradition, the story of the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years, recounted in the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, is regarded as a type or symbol, of the christian life with its times of struggle, temptation, letting-go, conversion, learning to go God’s way. Don’t we all have periods of wilderness-wandering of one type or another, as we go through life? Maybe we find ourselves in the wilderness of sickness, or disappointment, or failure, or loss, or loneliness, or emptiness, or temptation, or sin? In this Sunday’s gospel, we meet Jesus in the wilderness of temptation: “he was tempted by the devil”. It was a time of trial and testing for him. We are reminded in the Letter to the Hebrews (4:15) that we have in Jesus a high-priest who having been tempted or put to the test in the same way as we ourselves are, can feel compassionately with us in our time of trial.
Today’s passage states that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. The verb ‘drove’ gives the impression that Jesus was impelled to go, rather than that he just sauntered there by choice or chance! We could infer that while the wilderness was probably not his favourite place, he was aware of his need to go there, and felt assured that the holy Spirit, the Spirit of his loving Father, would be with him. Just before this event, at his baptism this same Spirit had descended on him in the form of a dove and he had heard the words: ”You are my beloved Son; my favour rests on you”.
Sometimes when we face difficult patches in our lives, and consequently feel that we are in one kind of wilderness or another, we can forget or ignore the fact that the holy Spirit is with us. Catherine of Siena asked God when she was going through a particularly upsetting time: “where were you when I was being tempted and feeling abandoned and afraid?” and received the reassuring answer: “I was in your heart”. In his wilderness, Jesus was not only with the wild beasts: angels were also there, messengers of his loving Father taking care of him.
In whatever wilderness we may find ourselves during these coming weeks of Lent, can we allow our loving, luring God to speak tenderly to our hearts?
Sr. Mary O’ Driscoll OP