FIRST SUNDAY LENT 2021
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ
Peace and Love!
On the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading in each Lectionary cycle is about Jesus’ temptation in the desert. This event in the life of Jesus is reported in each of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—but it is not found in John’s Gospel. This year we read Mark’s account of this event. Compared to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the details throughout Mark’s narrative are sparse. This is evident in Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Mark tells us only that Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit and that for 40 days he was tempted by Satan. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke explain that Jesus fasted while in the desert, that Satan presented him with three temptations, and that Jesus refused each one, quoting Scripture. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Mark report that angels ministered to Jesus at the end of his time in the desert. In each of the Synoptic Gospels, the temptation of Jesus follows his baptism by John the Baptist.
The Significance of the Desert Experience
In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus went into the desert immediately after his baptism, led by the Spirit. Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee begins after his temptation in the desert. Mark’s Gospel makes a connection between the arrest of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of God is in continuity with the preaching of John the Baptist, but it is also something new. As Jesus announces it, the Kingdom of God is beginning; the time of the fulfillment of God’s promises is here.
The fact that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert is significant. This recalls the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert after being led from slavery in Egypt. The prophet Elijah also journeyed in the desert for 40days and nights, making his way to Horeb, the mountain of God, where he was also attended to by an angel of the Lord. Remembering the significance of these events, we also set aside 40 days for the season of Lent.
Beginning of the Battle
In Mark’s Gospel, the desert marks beginning of Jesus’ battle with Satan; the ultimate test will be in Jesus’ final hours on the cross. In a similar way, our Lenten observances are only a beginning, a preparation for and a reinforcement of our ongoing struggle to resist the temptations we face in our lives. During Lent, we are led by the Holy Spirit to remember the vows of Baptism in which we promised to reject sin and to follow Jesus. Just as Jesus was ministered to by the angels, God also supports us in our struggle against sin and temptation. We succeed because Jesus conquered sin once and for all in his saving death on the cross.
Significance of Desert Experience
Spending long periods alone in the desert can definitely put a person at risk—and this was almost certainly even more the case 2000 years ago, before some of those animals were decimated by hunting. But, as some of the early Church Fathers pointed out, sometimes wild animals are symbolic of other things, too— and in this story, perhaps symbolic of the many temptations, both large and small, that must have harassed Jesus during the roughly six weeks he is said to have fasted and prayed alone in the wilderness. Of course, there were the big, dramatic temptations of the devil that we know … but, almost certainly, there were other, smaller, more subtle temptations and struggles which were like wild animals, snarling and circling around Jesus, looking for the right moment to make their move—to move in and attack him when he was weakened and presumably unable to properly defend himself.
Temptations to impatience or selfishness, to envy or doubt … temptations to seek another, different path … temptations to give in or give up … struggling with hunger and all of the other yearnings that go along with being fully human, which he was. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that, although Jesus was the sinless Son of God, he still experienced the full range of temptations that we do. Jesus knew what it meant to struggle. … And yet he was not alone in that struggle. “The angels waited on him,” Mark says. And, although maybe we can’t imagine what that looked like, it is a reminder that, even in his worst trials, Jesus was never abandoned or without support.
God ensured that he had the sustaining presence of the angels, to renew and strengthen him, to keep him focussed on the goal for which God had sent him. Interestingly, the Greek verb used here, diakoneô, is the root of our English word “deacon,” and describes the kind of loving, supportive service we are all supposed to offer to each other as baptized Christians. The angels offered Jesus the kind of loving, caring support that we are called to offer each other on a daily basis. They model for us what we are meant to be, and to do.
The Gospel concludes with that ringing cry that will resound throughout Lent: “Repent and believe in the good news!” While repentance is always at the centre of Christian living, it takes on a particular focus and intensity in Lent. That repentance is precisely the antidote for those who are menaced daily by the “wild animals” of temptations and trials, but who are also gently but insistently nudged toward repentance by the spiritual beings—the angels—who accompany us on this journey. Those angels help to bring us back to the right path when we are weary and discouraged because those “wild animals” have worn us down and left us spiritually wounded and bleeding. The message those “wild animals” will whisper to us is that we are too broken, too sinful, too far gone to be redeemable—that God could not be interested in us and would spurn our attempts to seek him. But, against those voices, there are the stronger voices of the angels, which we hear again and again in the voice of the Church, calling us back … offering us forgiveness … renewing our hope … reminding us that no one is ever “too far gone” to be beyond the reach of God’s mercy. It is no secret that God’s mercy is one of Pope Francis’s favourite themes. In one of his first public addresses after his election, Pope Francis said: “God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us … He understands us … He waits for us … He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart”.
Need of Reconciliation
All of us, no matter who we are, have been wounded by those “wild beasts” and are in need of the healing power of that sacrament. All of us need the freedom and renewal that a sincere Confession can bring. Make plans now to take part in this year’s Day of Confession, and make it a gift to yourself in preparation for Easter. Watch for more information in our parish bulletin in the weeks to come. The wilderness can be a frightening and threatening place. But there are angels alongside us on this journey, too, and their voice is one of love and compassion, a supportive voice that speaks God’s mercy and reassures us when we are dejected and unsure. Let it be those voices we listen to this Lent, as we look ahead to the joy of Holy Week and Easter, confident of the Lord’s goodness and trusting in his mercy without hesitation or fear.
Three significant messages:
1. Lent is our desert experience, the confrontation with the forces of evil in our lives. We journey with Jesus on the road to Calvary to his ultimate victory over sin and death.
2. With God present, the desert becomes a place of retreat inviting honesty with oneself and God.
3. For our personal reflection:
a. As I enter this Lenten journey, I will examine the areas of temptations, misplaced desires and loyalties in my life.
b. “Repent and believe” involves a process of re-focusing. What can I do this Lent to deepen my trust in God as my only source of strength and peace?
Stay Safe and Blessed… Be reconciled with God, yourself and your brothers and sisters.
Fr. Xavier Kannickairaj