Lent Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving


Posted : Feb-16-2024

On the First Sunday of Lent, we hear each year one of the Gospel accounts of Our Lord’s temptations in the Wilderness. This year we hear that of St. Mark. St. Mark’s is the shortest Gospel, and the most condensed. Today’s Gospel passage is a good example of his writing. Mark tells us no details of Our Lord’s temptations, unlike Matthew and Luke who tell us about each of the three of them in great detail. Instead he focuses our attention on several other things.

     First, he tells us that “The Spirit drove [Jesus] into the wilderness.” This took place immediately after Our Lord’s baptism. On that occasion the Spirit had come down upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice had marked Him out as “God’s beloved Son”. Now St. Mark seems to tell us that Our Lord was compelled to go into the desert. This was not a whim of His, but clearly followed on from His Baptism. Since it was at His baptism in the Jordan that He effectively took upon Himself His role as Messiah, “the Lamb of God”, this time in the wilderness immediately afterwards suggests to us that it was a necessary preparation for His work ahead. The fact that He was driven out implies that Our Lord must have been in a sense reluctant to undergo this ordeal. That reluctance can be understood when we read on that Jesus was “tempted by satan.” The wilderness was understood in Our Lord’s time as the place of chaos and the abode of evil spirits, precisely because it was so inhospitable and uninhabitable. Left in this simple unadorned way, the temptations take on more of the unnerving character of the wild surroundings in which they took place. St. Mark’s account of this ordeal is the only one to include that small but significant detail that “He was with the wild beasts”, which also increases the inhuman and frightening aspect of this strange event. We can imagine how dreadful the onset of nighttime particularly would be in such surroundings.

     What we can learn specifically from St. Mark’s account is that Our Lord, with understandable reluctance, yet obedient to God the Holy Spirit’s direction, willingly allowed Himself to endure some kind of contest of will with satan in a place where satan could play on His fears and put Him to the test. But St. Mark also tells us that “the angels looked after Him”. This event was clearly a huge spiritual battle in which good and evil spirits were warring within our Lord’s own spirit over His future work as Redeemer. The outcome of this was to be the beginning of His public ministry. Our Lord. St. Mark tells us immediately afterwards that “Jesus went into Galilee. There He proclaimed the good news from God. The time has come, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel (which is the “Good News”)               ~ FR. PAUL DOBSON