First Lent B
February 14, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Rainbow good news.
Introduction: This Lent the first readings speak of covenants between God and God’s people. We have the following covenants: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Cyrus and Jeremiah. We will be focusing on these covenants in a special way this Lent.
The Gospels for the first two Sundays of Lent center on Jesus’ temptation and the Transfiguration according
to Mark’s Gospel.
Homily: “Change is not easy. But if we refuse to change, refuse to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, the consequences are dire for us.”
Mark has a streamlined version of the temptations. We must go to Matthew and Luke to find the temptations spelled out. They are temptations to false ways of salvation: Pleasure, Pride, and Possession. (“As the Baptism scene recapitulates the opening of Genesis, so the reference to the temptation for “forty days in the desert” encapsulates the key experience of Israel in the book of Exodus. Mark gives us a static picture, the human figure of Jesus steadfast between “wild beasts” and ministering angels. It is an icon of original humanity, only this time not sinning.”Mark commentary by Marie Noonan Sabin) In Mark’s Gospel after Jesus’ forty days experience in the desert, tempted by Satan he proclaims: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” These words are both promise and challenge.
I’d like to look at three parts of the Gospel: l) the desert, what it meant to Jesus, what it means to us; 2) the handing over of John the Baptist; 3) Jesus’ proclamation: the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Good news.
l) THE DESERT. A place of struggle with the forces of evil and also of new
beginnings. The desert was the traditional abode of evil and demonic
forces. We can recall the experience of the Jewish people in the desert.
They had been freed from the slavery of Egypt and were on their way to the
promised Land. They sojourned in the desert for forty years. During this
sojourn they were tempted, to turn back, to complain, to worship false
gods. But in the midst of these struggles against evil God was doing
something new. The people were fashioned in to the Jewish nation the
Chosen People. It was a new beginning.
Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert to struggle with the
personification of evil, Satan. We are not sure of the symbolism
of the “wild beasts.” Do they symbolize the evil spirits? Or do they
signify the special time of God’s final peace (at one with nature) of Is.
”Angels” waited on him. Here we get a hint, a whisper of Jesus’
For us an image of Lent is also the desert. How long did the Jews
wander in the desert? 40 years. How long did Jesus sojourn in the desert?
40 days. How long is Lent? 40 days. It is also to be about our struggle
with the forces of evil as we experience them in ourselves, our families
our daily life. On Ash Wednesday we received ashes a reminder of our
earthliness and frailty. We are sinners. Symbolically sinners put ashes
on and clothe themselves in sack cloth as reminders of their seeking
conversion. What practices of Lent are we undertaking to overcome our
2) JOHN HANDED OVER. The fate of John is a preview of (foreshadows)
the fate of Jesus. The long shadow of the cross is present in the beginning of
Jesus’ public ministry. The cross is kept in a prominent place throughout
the Gospel of Mark. The same Greek word paradidomi is very prominent in
reference to Jesus’ passion. Judas hands Jesus over to the chief priests
(l4:l0), the chief priests hand Jesus over to Pilate (l5:l0), Pilate hands
Jesus over to be crucified (death) (l5:l2).
The disciples resisted the cross as part of Jesus’ life and
resisted the cross as part of their own life. We do the same. During the
Lenten season we have the way of the cross every Friday. We heighten our
awareness during this penitential season of our need to carry our own
cross. There is nothing magical about Lent or about ashes. We must adopt
some Lenten practice as a sign of our need for God, our dependence on God,
our desire to die to the sinful parts of ourselves.
3) KINGDOM OF GOD. Jesus claims the divine intervention of God was
happening in his ministry. The kingdom is offered to all who hear Jesus
message. The kingdom of God has values very different from
the kingdom of empire. To those who respond positively to the Kingdom
of God it is God’s call out of Empire. Sadly historically the Church in many
ways has come to embrace what Jesus rejected.
God’s offer of salvation through Jesus calls for a response.
The kingdom is to be a present and future reality.
Reform your lives, or as it says in Spanish tomen otro camino.
Take another path.
Amidst the desert, cross, ashes, sinner side of Lent we must never
lose sight of the fact that with the coming of Jesus, the kingdom is
present in a new way. We are to have a personal experience of this kingdom
of God and the difference that the presence of Jesus makes. St. Peter in
the second reading today reminds us that we too are covenanted with God
through our Baptism. Our Lenten season is a time to grow more fully into
the newness of Christ. We must be alert to when our priorities conform to
the the kingdom of empire rather than the kingdom of God. We are called
to conversion, to take the path of Jesus, not the path of TV advertisements,
the ways of Reality TV stars, the actions of some politicians and clergy.
Conversion demands of us. The apostles in Mark’s Gospel at first are confused
and baffled by Jesus. They lack understanding. But as the Gospel progresses
to the middle section, the apostles misunderstand Jesus. And finally in Jerusalem
they desert Jesus. But transformation takes place after the Resurrection.
We can use Lent to discern where are we in our trajectory to be disciples? This
call to discernment can be calling to us as a Lenten practice. Am I willing to
involve myself in this practice, this Lent?