Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

My thoughts for the first Sunday in Lent will focus on the following two verses of the Gospel.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.

The Spirit drove Jesus

The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus two verses earlier in the Gospel of Mark now drives Jesus into the desert -- into the wilderness. The word used for the verb -- drove -- is the same word used elsewhere when Jesus drives out demons from the possessed. It is a forceful, powerful and deliberate action on the part of the Spirit.

Why this action of driving? Here Jesus is driven to engage in his first of many battles with Satan. Jesus, from the onset, confronts evil head on in his preparation to overcome it again and again in his ministry -- an ultimately at his resurrection from the dead. Satan can not be avoided or dismissed. Satan can not be circumvented. Evil is actively confronted with purpose.

out into the desert

The desert -- or the wilderness -- referred to here is not to be confused with the Arizonian cascading sandscapes peppered with cacti and mammoth plateaus leading to a horizon of pink, chalky skies. Today a South westerner may jump into his convertible on a Friday afternoon and deliberately speed into the serene desert on a road to nowhere in order to clear his head of a week worth of corporate America infestations. However, in the time of Jesus the desert was a dreadful place that would have been avoided if it all possible.

The desert was unclean; for it was not a place where running, water could be readily found with which to clean and wash; that is, cleaning rituals could not be conscientiously followed in the desert. Further, because it was avoided by the masses it proved to be a safe hiding place for outcasts, thieves, fugitives and marauding bandits looking to score big by plundering a caravan of imported goods.

and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.

The howling winds of the desert wisping across wide open expanses of sand were also thought to be the shrieking and wailing cries of demons cast back into the wilderness after being expelled from exorcists.

Accordingly, this is where Satan would be sought out -- in a bleak, dangerous, forsaken place deplete of anything pure and upright. In this setting Jesus does not simply cross paths with Satan; rather the Spirit drives Jesus to seek a lengthy and arduous confrontation where Jesus is tested by Satan.

What did this testing consist of? Perhaps it was a litany of choices between the love of mankind, or the hording of power over others, between dying for another or placing oneself above the lowly and poor, between conquering evil or embracing evil, between loving the enemy or obliterating the enemy, between establishing a kingdom of love or building a dynasty of dictatorship, between sacrificing life, or preserving it at the cost of others.

He was among wild beasts

The possibility of facing wild beasts in the desert adds to the frightfulness of the barren desert -- the wilderness. Jesus might have found one or more of the following wild animals in his sojourn: boars, cobras, desert fox, hyenas, jackals, leopards, lions, scorpions, vipers, vultures and wolves.

and the angels ministered to him

Jesus is not abandoned by His heavenly Father to do battle alone during his forty days of testing in the dreadful desert. With the help of heavenly hosts, any dangers that awaited Jesus would not defeat him.

HOMILY: Jesus confronts, face to face, the evil of the world at the beginning of his ministry. We too should face our demons at the beginning of this season of Lent. Let us not circumvent them. Let us not deny them. Let us confront them with the driving force of the Spirit behind us and the angels of God around us. No matter what wild beasts scare us in the process, let us remember that Jesus is not left to do battle alone -- and neither are we. Our heavenly Father who loves us will protect us in the midst of battle. What must we face this Lent? What successful showdowns will make us stronger and help us to confront future evils in our lives? Do we trust that the protective spirit of Jesus is with us just as God was with him in his desert experience?

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