By LEVI ALBANIA
United Methodist Church
Psalms 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Genesis 9: 8-15
First Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 12-15
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Truth be told, the way Mark wrote the story of Jesus in the wilderness being tempted for forty days was probably the account that I find least appealing and less significant. Among the three Gospel accounts, I find it boring and least appealing for it did not describe the separate acts of temptation and how Jesus triumphed over all of these. I also consider the account less significant because it failed to highlight the message of Christ’s victory over hedonism, egoism, and materialism. The temptations represent things that humanity has lusted for over thousands of years now. We go hungry and feel the need to satisfy our bellies. Money, nice things, and privileges have become our indicators of success and the fulfillment of our dreams and passions. We wished we were filthy rich so we could afford the price of power and prestige.
A pastor had this story to share during his sermon:
“One day, a father was trying to teach his 6-year-old child how to shoot a basketball. The boy would push the ball as hard as he could toward the basket, but it would always fall short. The dad would then demonstrate how to do it and effortlessly toss the ball toward the goal, saying, “Just do it like this, son. It is easy.” The boy would try again and fail again. So, the father would demonstrate it again. Finally, the boy said, “It’s easy for you up there. You don’t know how hard it is from down here!”
O, God, temptation is everywhere. We hope You knew it is hard down here!
But, what was it really like when Jesus was tempted? Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. He was alone except for wild beasts and Satan who was tempting Him. Later, the angels were said to have been ministering to Him. Let us remember that all these things happened right after Jesus was baptized. Remember the voice of God from heaven saying, “You are my beloved son, and I am pleased with you.”? How difficult would it have been for a son to hear the same from His father and find out later that He will be abandoned in the dessert.
But Jesus Christ was probably not abandoned. He was driven to the wilderness by the Spirit to experience what it is to be human. The wilderness experience and the realities it represents is commonplace to humanity. Many people bear sacrifices, temptations, even isolation and exclusion. Despite abundance, there are so many reduced to poverty, including those deprived of the means to realize their dignity as persons. People are suffering from physical and social evils, from persecution and other forms of injustice. Christ himself, in this gospel, went through an extremely difficult situation. While it might be true that He could have felt deserted in the desert when He came to experience temptation, He allowed it to happen to show us the way to overcome it.
This victory of Jesus Christ over temptation in the wilderness could not have been told by anyone except Jesus himself. The apostles were not around Him nor were there any human witnesses. Jesus Himself had told the story to inspire change in everyone who learns about it. After forty days and winning over Satan, Jesus went on to preach the Good News.
We, too, need to hear the Good News today. Lent has just started, and it is inviting us to see temptations, our wilderness experience, in a different light. Let us turn such difficult situation into an opportunity to turn to God, especially when our own will power is not enough.
When Jesus preached the Good News, he told all who heard Him to repent. To be remorseful and sorry may require us to give up some things that we have learned to accept or have been comfortable living with. It entails that we rectify our actions and no longer commit personal and allow social sins. Repentance is manifested in one’s practice of life-giving and liberating actions.
The Gospel reflection last week shared in this same platform gave us a glimpse of the life of a monastic who thrives in today’s “wilderness” of social injustice and apathy. In the gospels, the wilderness was a place of revelation. Time and again, we are assured that God is present even in places of solitude where it is extremely difficult to believe He is really there. The last eleven months of community quarantine experience may have confronted us with this reality already. As we seek His wisdom amid all these, let us learn from the reflection shared by Weena Salvador Meily on being a vowed solitary. It “requires faithfulness, stillness, silence, and the practice of prayer and meditation”. Lent is a good time to pause and let the Spirit bring us to the discovery of our wilderness. Let us ask ourselves:
Where is the Spirit sending me?
What temptations have I been entertaining lately? When do I say, I’ve had enough, I need to overcome these?
What am I willing to give up to be genuinely in solidarity with the rest of humanity?
What life-giving and liberating actions can I do for myself and others?
How can I proclaim the Good News today?