Saint Vincent Archabbey
First Sunday of Lent, Classic
Mark 1: 12:15
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" (Mark 1: 11). 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." (Mark 1: 15)
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 human beings do," Jesus said to Peter (Mark 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 (Mark 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 (Mark 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 weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin" (Mark 4: 15). "Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Mark 2: 18).
No one with the consciousness of freedom escapes the testing that reveals where the heart's true treasure lies. Only the incidentals 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 (Deuteronomy 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"(Mark 14: 36). Jesus then said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep" (Mark 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, O.S.B.
1st Sunday of Lent, Modern
The first Sunday of Lent begins on a reassuring note this year as we hear about God's covenant of mercy and peace with all of creation, following the destruction brought by the flood and marked by the sign of a rainbow. Every time I see a rainbow I think of this passage and of God's fidelity to his creation and to us, who are the crown of creation.
To be sure, there is an obvious connection between the forty days of the flood recounted in Genesis, the forty years of Israel's desert sojourn, and the forty days of Jesus temptation in the desert the last of which was in turn the inspiration for the forty days of our Lenten journey. But since the time when the Lectionary for mass was revised following the Second Vatican Council we have heard this excerpt from Genesis at the beginning of Lent for one critically important reason: because it speaks of God's restoration of hope to mankind and indeed all of creation after the flood, an event which is a "type" or symbolic representation of baptism.
A type is really more than a symbol, it is a person or event or object which has real meaning and value itself, yet which also points forward to someone or something which is of greater significance. In his Letter to the Romans Saint Paul actually uses the word "type" it is the same in Greek and English when he refers to Christ, writing of Adam, who is a type of the one to come (Rom 5:14).
That the first reading provides us with a "type" of baptism through its colorful language about Noah is deeply meaningful for all Christians today as we have just begun our observance of Lent, a time devoted to repentance and a return to our baptismal purity. Even more so, this baptismal imagery is important because today the Church the world over marks the beginning of the third stage of the preparation of catechumens for initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil, an initiation of which baptism is the primordial moment. To commemorate this key moment in the faith life of the entire Church and her individual members dioceses all over the world will celebrate the Rite of Election today.
With this in mind, and turning back to the readings for mass, in the New Testament epistle from First Peter we hear the author directly say that baptism was foreshadowed by Noah and the flood: "He also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now" (1 Pet 3:19-21). When the epistle speaks of "baptism, which saves you now" it is addressing both the Christian believers who first read and heard this epistle and us as well. The very same sacrament that delivered new life in the Lord to the earliest Christians does the same for us today, and the same inner conversion that led them to the waters of baptism must sustain us in our day, even if we were baptized many years ago. The gospel reading today also reminds us of this call to conversion as a keynote of Lenten observance, with
Christ himself commanding us to "repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). May Lent be a season of renewal and peace for all who trust in the Lord, those already washed in the waters of baptism and those preparing for that great moment each one of us rejoicing with the Psalmist: "Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant" (Ps 25:10).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B"