Scripture – Mark 1:9-15 – First Sunday in Lent – February 18, 2018
Had Jesus emerged victorious from the wilderness this week, he probably would have been met by a group of reporters with microphones and recorders in hand, cameramen alongside, clamoring for in-person interviews, peppering him with questions like these:
” Jesus, can you tell us what it was like for you during these last forty days out there in the wilderness.
” Was there ever a time you felt you didn’t have it in you?
” Jesus, you were competing against the Devil himself. What was going through your head as he threw temptation after temptation your way?
” At what point in the event did you know you had him beat?
” We know your mother has been a huge supporter throughout your life. Can you share with us what she said to you when you returned to Galilee?
” Did you have any idea that John had been arrested while you were out there?
” We understand you were with the wild beasts, Jesus. What seemed to work best for you as you endured weeks of living side-by-side with them? Did their presence distract you at all from your goal of beating Satan?
” Jesus it would seem that having angels on your team waiting on you during the competition must have been a big help. Some have claimed this to be an unfair advantage. Would you care to comment on that?
” And – you know we take no pleasure in asking this – but how is your relationship with the Spirit now after its driving you out into the wilderness for such a long event. Is there any resentment there or are you grateful for the push toward discipline to overcome the ultimate test in temptation, especially now after coming out victorious?
” With this win behind you now, tell us, what’s next for Jesus of Nazareth? Will we be seeing you in Jerusalem any time soon?
As we have explored the Gospel of Mark over these last weeks, one of our observations has been the very succinct “just the facts, ma’am” approach of the first of the four evangelists. You heard here this morning within just 8 short verses about Jesus’ Baptism, his time of temptation in the wilderness and his hitting the road in Galilee to begin his ministry. Ready, set, go: baptism, boot camp and released to the streets preaching the good news.
If you have watched the Olympic Games this week or have ever watched them, you know that it seems as if the athletes simply show up and compete. Ready, set, go. They take their positions, take a breath and then take off – on the ice, on the slopes on the half-pipe – in the summer on the track, in the water, across the mat. It is only through the human interest side of the press coverage that we learn of their being beloved sons and daughters at the start of their young lives, gifted by God with unusual raw talent, driven, albeit lovingly, by parents and teachers and trainers toward the wilderness of practice and competition, discipline and perseverance, denying themselves all the usual student temptations of late nights and bad diets and hanging out without any purpose at all.
It is a long and difficult road to becoming an Olympic athlete, which is somewhat belied by the very brief peek we get into their individual and team events.
So it is with our gospel reading this morning. We get the summary in the Gospel of Mark unlike the details we get in the later writings of Matthew and Luke. In Mark there is no mention of the details of the temptations of Jesus by Satan to turn stone into bread or to jump off the pinnacle of the temple to be caught by angels or to surrender to the devil and be given all the kingdoms of the world. No mention of his fasting the whole time and being famished. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ ordeal, his endurance event, is summed up in two verses: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Of course reporters and we would have lots of questions.
As we begin this season of Lent, it is important and helpful for us to remember that we are neither Olympic athletes nor Jesus the Christ. Our goals are not the same as the Son of Man or Shaun White. But our temptations are very similar. Temptations are those things which, if we surrender to them, pull us away from the kingdom of God, pull us away from our relationship with the Divine, contribute to our breaking the commandment of putting God first with “no false gods before me.” If you stay up all night partying, even though that’s way more fun than practicing your quadruple twist for the five hundredth time, you probably won’t win the gold the next day. If we succumb to the temptations of this world – and we all know what they are – pretty soon we’re serving our own egos instead of the Holy One who loves us like no other.
So, no, we’re not preparing for Olympic competition this Lent and Jesus already died for us, but maybe we should take a cue from their preparation and habits AND their doubts and struggles to help us prepare for our life-long goals: to love God, love neighbor, and as the prophet Micah said so well: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
And when it gets hard, when we want to give up and give in, I’m not sure calling up Lindsey Vonn or Chloe Kim or Nathan West is going to help. Yes we can admire their discipline and their talent, even raise them up on podium pedestals, but they don’t understand our own personal wild beasts the way Jesus does. They can’t send in the angels the way Jesus can. They can’t forgive us the way Jesus can. They may not understand that it takes us more than 18 or 25 or 30 years to prepare to get it right: to stop striving for bigger houses and sleeker cars and more accomplishments and fatter portfolios and the latest fashion and the newest technology and the ideal weight and the least wrinkled skin and a family full of achievers. It takes us way more than forty days to defeat our internal Satans of selfishness and the need for recognition and the pursuit of perfection. We hear “repent” – turn around – turn back to God – and we wonder how many times do we have to practice that before we finally, finally believe the good news that we are loved, cherished, forgiven by God.
Because once we do finally and truly believe it and maintain that belief, all those temptations to earn more and get more and be more melt away. When we finally in our heart of hearts believe the good news, in will come the angels to help us truly live that way. We, too, will emerge from the wilderness victorious and the only who will know that it was not simply a matter of “ready, set, go” will be our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
My friends, Lent is meant to be a journey. We are called every year at this time to at least put our toes into the wilderness, to consider going without those temptations which get in the way of our relationship with God, to review the state of our inner lives and our outer ones, to rediscover discipline, to reconnect with our spiritual selves and, yes, to repent and try again to believe the good news. Ready? Set? Go! Amen.