Lent 2015: First Sunday (Cycle B) - Challenge of the Desert
"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he...was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him... he proclaimed... "Repent, and believe the Good News'..." (Mark 1: 12-15)
To repent always means to turn to the way of God. The desert-wilderness is a place both of temptation and of repentance. It is a place of decision. It is the place where all is lost and all is found.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of The Little Prince), after crashing in his light aircraft in the desert, lived through isolation, fear and struggle to survive. There in the wilderness, deprived of all human companions and comfort, he found the ultimate meaning of his life. He found himself, and he found the extreme value of other human beings. He also found a new dedication to life. He wrote:
Never shall I forget that, lying buried to the chin in sand, strangled slowly to death by thirst, my heart was infinitely warm beneath the desert stars.
What can people do to make known to themselves this sense of deliverance? (Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, New-York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939, pp. 240-241.)
Saint-Exupéry told how, in a moment of seemingly final weakness, he thought he must walk with arms outstretched so that those searching for him might find him reaching toward them.
John the Baptist had prepared for his mission —making ready the way of the Lord — by an austere life in the desert. Early in Jesus' public life, in the time just following his own time in the desert, John was imprisoned. Prison is another sort of desert. Reading between the lines of the gospel account, we could picture John in the dungeon perhaps wondering what has come of his mission and whether the Messiah is truly come. Would he rescue John from this prison-desert? We know he endured to the end.
As we turn our eyes to the place described in Mark's very brief account of Jesus' temptations, we see him, a lone human surrounded by wild beasts, Satan, angels, the Spirit and desert... all elemental forces, as it were. In some sense, Jesus is finding his place in God's plan of things. In some sense, too, we can think of Jesus as "repenting" in the desert inasmuch as he has left his carpenter's role behind and turned over his life to a new and total dedication to the Kingdom of God. It is a dedication and decision unto death.
We cannot choose to be like table cream, "half and half"! We have to decide whom we will follow.
Are we capable of such decision for God?
These are the questions of the Lenten desert:
- Where is the Spirit leading me to repent and to choose?
- The Reign of God is close at hand: am I keeping it at arm's length? Do I postpone? Ignore? Even miss it?
- What real life choice have I made? To what am I really committed?
Christ Jesus, God's human Son, in the moment of your weakness and hunger, I see the power of the Holy Spirit at work. I believe the same Spirit can strengthen me in my weakness. Help me to dare the desert of decision and to accept the challenge of life lived fully in your kingdom.
Mary Alban Bouchard CSJ
This reflection is from Sister Mary Alban Bouchard’s book Until the Son is Risen published by Novalis in 1988 and adapted for the web.