February 26, 2012
First Sunday of Lent
The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. We should recall that this event in Mark's gospel comes immediately after Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. As the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends upon him, and a voice comes from heaven: "You are my beloved Son." After the stark, matter-of-fact statement that Jesus was tempted by Satan, Mark tells us that after John's arrest, Jesus begins his mission: "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Matthew and Luke in their narratives of the temptations include Jesus' triumph over Satan in a dramatic verbal exchange between them. Mark does not present the temptations in this way because his entire gospel is a narrative of the trials that Jesus undergoes. Satan tempts him to doubt that he is God's beloved Son, and likewise tempts him to betray his mission on behalf of God's kingdom. Satan will use every means to tempt Jesus in order to save his own kingdom that has dominance in the world.
Jesus is tempted by his own disciples. "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do," Jesus said to Peter (Mk 8:33). He is tested frequently by enemies from among his own people and by the Romans. His own relatives say that he is out of his mind (Mk 3:21). The most severe temptation comes when he appears to have failed in his mission; he is misunderstood, betrayed and abandoned by his disciples; he is arrested, undergoes the humiliation and torture associated with a criminal's public execution; and finally he apparently has the experience of being forsaken by God while dying on a cross. Yet, his dying prayer in this dark night of the soul is also a cry of unconquered hope and trust (Mk 15:34, Psalm 22).
The Letter to the Hebrews reveals the good news that the triumph of Jesus over the most severe temptations imaginable can be a source of hope and trust in the trials that we undergo. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned" (4:15). "Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (2:18).
No one with the consciousness of freedom escapes the testing that reveals where the heart's true treasure lies. Only the accidentals of the testing differ for each of us. The heroes of faith down to the present day triumph over their trials because they share the single-minded, childlike faith of Jesus. Jesus in his human consciousness and freedom loved God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength (Dt 6:5). A person with a divided heart, on the other hand, easily fails in a test of faith, and particularly in a trial of suffering constantly asks God, Why? Further, the double-minded person demands some evidence of God's presence and care.
The life-implication of Mark's gospel is that we must pray as Jesus prayed if we hope to love God as he did with an undivided heart when our time of trial is upon us. Like Jesus before his great trial in the garden of Gethsemane, we may pray that if possible the hour of trial might pass by us. Nevertheless, with the power of his Spirit we must also pray: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will" (Mk 14:36). Jesus then said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep" (Mk 14:37)? Shortly after Jesus was arrested. Peter, standing among the crowd, was tested by the high priest's maid. Unprepared by prayer and fearful for his life, with a curse Peter denied that he even knew Jesus.
At the Eucharist for the first Sunday of Lent a good prayer would be to ask the Spirit to heal the illusions, desires, and the doubts that divide our hearts. Only with this grace can we say the Lord's prayer with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength. And with Christ's Spirit we can live without fear because we trust that God's will for us can only be love.
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB