Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent.

‘The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.’ From Mark 1:9-15, today’s Gospel.

‘Hope could arise from ashes even now Beginning with this sign upon your brow.’ 

From the poem ‘Ash Wednesday’ by Malcolm Guite.

On Ash Wednesday, those present in church had the sign of the cross made on their forehead. This is traditionally done with ashes made from last year’s palm crosses and the poem  by Malcolm Guite mentions the hope that can arise from broken promises and dreams when forgiveness breaks through and a new beginning can happen if it’s allowed to. Ashes are dirty and messy – but household ash can clean glass really well and potash can be helpful in the garden. From dirt, mess and destruction, new life can grow – where might hope still arise from ashes this year?

On this first Sunday of Lent, the reading from St Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the temptation passages and simply states that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness immediately by the Spirit. This comes after his baptism but there is no time to celebrate this, which indicates the pressing nature of all that lies ahead – the time is now right for Jesus’ ministry to begin. The wilderness experience provides a time of reflection and testing that is essential as the way ahead and future hopes are discerned but there is no mention of the three temptations as in Matthew and Luke – Mark’s account is appropriately very brief as no-one else was present other than the Tempter. 

However, Mark’s is the only Gospel to note that wild beasts were with him – but, in the Holy Land, these would be more likely to be snakes and scorpions, reptiles rather than mammals. As these tend to hide away, the desert would seem barren but references to wild animals may echo the covenant in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament where God tells Noah that the agreement, “… is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.” Gen.9:15. References in Isaiah 11:6-9 mention the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, the calf and the lion together and the cow grazing with the bear – this may be an indication of the dawning of the messianic age being fulfilled in Jesus. However, Mark’s Gospel was written at a time when many Christians were being fed to lions by Emperor Nero so this would be unlikely to heard as an indication of peace and perhaps more as a sign of Jesus becoming vulnerable in all God asks of him. Perhaps this would be part of the  angelic protection Mark mentions, although St Augustine said of Jesus that, “He endured death as a lamb; he devoured it as a lion.” Sermon 375A.

All this suggests that, despite its brevity, Mark’s account gives a great deal of food for thought. However, despite the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus emerges from this desert experience proclaiming that, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” Therein lies the hope that may yet arise from the ashes and desert places we face in our own lives today as the Lenten journey begins. 

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.