Reflection for the first Sunday of Lent
“At once the Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.” From Mark 1:9-15, NIV.
“I’m safe on Mars. Perseverance will get you anywhere.” Tweet from the NASA rover.
The news this week that the Perseverance rover had landed safely on Mars was an astonishing feat of technical and scientific brilliance. Despite the perils, the dry and dusty Jezero Crater became its base as the rover now begins a search for signs of life in the remains of this former lake. What amazed me almost as much as its landing was the rover’s words, “I’m safe” – an astounding thing to programme in a robotic machine and also reminiscent of the Biblical I am sayings linking Moses (Ex. 3) and Jesus.
There’s a link between Moses and Jesus regarding temptation too. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and through the sea into the desert, where temptation and quarrelling awaited them. Jesus, after his baptism by John, was sent by the Spirit into the desert where he also faced temptation, the first in both cases centring on food. The Israelites complained about hunger, which was overcome by manna sufficient for the day (Ex. 16) and echoed in Jesus’ request for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. Secondly, they tested God with complaints about water (Ex. 17:2) and thirdly, they worshipped the golden calf they had made at the base of a high mountain rather than worship him. The Israelites gave in to these three temptations whereas Jesus resisted what he faced by quoting scripture from exactly the same stories in the book of Deuteronomy: he overcomes the temptation to turn stones into bread (8:3), refuses the temptation to worship Satan to gain worldly power (6:13-15.) and will not test God by throwing himself off the highest point of the temple (6:16). Having been declared to be the Son of God at his baptism, Jesus is taunted by the words, “If you are the Son of God” yet he is faithful in spite of the subtlety of the temptations he faces. This is only Jesus’ first temptation – Peter later tempts him to avoid the cross (Matthew 16:23) and, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus will struggle with the temptation to avoid the suffering that lies ahead (Luke 22:42-44).
There are many subtle temptations facing us as we continue to endure the desert experience of isolation and lockdown during the pandemic. Confronted with the example of Jesus, whose experience in the wilderness enables him to overcome temptation, and that of the Israelites who fail to resist it, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that the lengthy solitude of lockdown may bring out the best and the worst in us – especially when trying to work out the various ‘ifs’ that lie ahead if the schools go back, if the economy improves, if holidays become possible……. It may be a comfort to know that Jesus, in his humanity, knows what it’s like as temptation is faced for this is no robot for whom temptation was not a real issue. To overcome temptation in any wilderness situation takes time, effort and will – perseverance is key, for NASA rovers and humans alike!
With my prayers,