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FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (18th February 2018)

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 1:12-15

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the desert. He was in the desert forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

JESUS IS THE GOOD NEWS


When the Emperor Nero was faced with economic collapse in the Rome of A.D. 64, his strategy was to set the city on fire. He then accused the Christians of perpetrating the inferno and consequently an era of persecution began. The followers of Jesus were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena – the citizens of Rome were entertained by the mutiliation and cruel death of their fellow human beings.
The Evangelist Mark, companion of St. Peter, lived in constant fear of being thrown to the lions. So, when he opens his account of the story of Jesus he tells how Jesus is with the wild beasts in the wilderness. Jesus is the innocent one, but his innocence does not protect him from conflict. Jesus is seen to face this testing in the wilderness, the traditional arena of Satan. Before going public, the resolve of the innocent one is put to the test.
Mark says that Jesus was tempted by Satan. The word ‘Satan’ in Hebrew means an adversary and in the Old Testament it was first used of human opponents – a demonic spirit opposed to God. When Jesus came to be baptised, the Father declares him to be his beloved Son and in the wasteland the Son of God encounters the Adversary of God. Now Jesus, the Son must decide whether to follow the way of the Father or the way of Satan.
When Jesus emerges from the wilderness of temptation, he does not leave temptation forever behind him. Jesus was to think God’s way and be the spokesman, not for Satan but for the Father. When he begins his mission, he tells the people that the time has come to let God rule in their lives. If this is to happen they must repent and believe the Good News. What God is doing is Good News. And the Good News is not only the message of Jesus, but Jesus, in his person, is himself the Good News. Satan was considered to be the origin of temptation and of sin. It is therefore fitting that Jesus, ‘the more powerful one’ who is filled with the spirit, should confront Satan.
Few of us associate the time of Lent with Good News, especially if that means facing the adversary within and around us. At the beginning of Lent the Church takes us into the wilderness with Jesus, to face that power opposed to the Gospel. None of us should have to face the wilderness alone. We are all tempted, we all sin. All of us need to hear, like Jesus, the voice of the Father that recognises us as his beloved children. When we hear that voice, the call to repent is the call to stay in the company of the One who loves us. The Gospel challenges us to change our minds about the way we think and change our ways about habits of sin.
This is a lifetime’s task. Jesus did not overcome Satan in the wilderness, he achieved that only on the cross of Calvary. Lent reminds us of our own need to begin again, facing the adversary within.
Pope John Paul II wrote ‘Lent is a time of profound truth which brings conversion, restores hope, and by putting everything back in its proper place, brings peace and optimism’. G.K. Chesterton declared that he had only found one religion – Christianity – that dared go down to the very depths of self discovery. Lent is not a long brooding over sin, but rather a journey that could be called our upward
descent. It ends before the cross and the wounded face of Christ where we see ourselves in the white light of a new beginning.

Kevin Lyon
Archdeacon of Glendalough


 


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