By Dcn Augustin Koffi, SJ
Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
The readings of this first Sunday of Lent remind us about the fidelity of the God of our salvation. In the first reading, the story of Noah tells us that our failures cannot stop God from being close to us like in the beginning of the world (Gen 1-2:3). God’s covenant is not only with human beings, it includes the whole created universe to which human beings belong. In the second reading, baptism as “an appeal to God for a clear conscience” becomes the new ark through which God saves us. Today’s gospel is closely related to the baptism of Jesus our savior.
In this pericope, since Mark did not mention what were the temptations, let’s assume with him that we know them and how Jesus handles them. I would like to invite us to be focused on three contrasts that show me the fidelity of Jesus to the will of God: The contrast between the Holy Spirit and temptation – The contrast between living with the wild beasts and the service of the angels – The contrast between the arrest of John-the-Baptist and the ministry of Jesus.
The contrast between the Holy Spirit and temptation
Though it is not mentioned in this pericope that we’ve just heard; this episode comes just after the baptism of Jesus. We believe that through baptism we become new creatures. The link between the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ temptation is problematic. Is it the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us into the wilderness, into temptation? The link established by the evangelist between the temptation of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is tricky compared to the big celebrations that take place usually after our baptism. However, it is from the Spirit received at baptism that Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan. Also, we should look at this point in terms of the docility of Jesus to the Holy Spirit and the constant presence of the Holy Spirit with us. During this Lenten season, if we let the Holy Spirt guide us even into our desert, our desert will bloom again.
In addition, the wilderness can be understood as a place of temptation, isolation, austerity, desolation as well as a place where the Lord leads us to speak to us alone. For us, after our various baptisms, the Spirit generally pushes us to live as witnesses in our communities. It is in these different places that we experience or we must experience our docility to the Spirit. The challenges are many, but like Jesus we must face and overcome them with God’s grace which is always available for us (I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh—1st reading). So, facing various injustices in our families, in our country, our religious congregations and associations, what is our attitude as Christians? Are we ready to fall into the first temptation or are we firm in listening to the Spirit?
Living with the wild beasts and the service of the angels
Jesus lived among the wild beasts and the angels served him. The contrast of this framework should challenge us. Wild beasts can designate dangers; and angels the grace of God who never fail us. This contrast can also refer to the ideal harmony between man, nature and God. In either case, Jesus stood firm and overcame the temptations, the dangers of the Evil One. There are also realities in our lives that seem insurmountable (corruption, divided families, unjust accusations). As Christians, how do we confront the “wild beasts” of our society, our country, our families, our community? Do we let them tame us or do we tame them?
The arrest of John-the-Baptist and the beginning of Jesus ‘ministry
John, who came to bear witness to the truth, the one who came to prepare the way of the Lord, was arrested for telling the truth to a powerful person. But this fact never stops Jesus to begin his mission without fear. Arbitrarily, JB was arrested and detained. Let us look around us in our countries, there are arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions. Even when the arrests are rightful, let us look at the deplorable conditions of the detention of our brothers and sisters; they have lost almost their human dignity. And no one or very few people get concerned about it or until one of our loved ones is there.
Beyond these cases, there are people whom we have excluded from our hearts for many reasons. Whether it is the physical prisons or the prisons of our hearts, we need to be more sensitive to the dignity of the human person, and to the truth without which no society can be built. What attention do we give to prisoners, arbitrarily detained or not? How can we see our conversion as a concrete commitment to work towards the liberation of all that prevents us from living in a more humane society, in a Church that does not turn away from the problems of society?
In case, we’re just seated there and we do not know what to do about all these questions, just listen to what Jesus is telling us today: “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The Kingdom of God starts here on earth. Paraphrasing the spirituality of Unity, we have to bear in mind that “only the present is in our hands. And this is where we have to concentrate our mind, heart, and strength in doing the divine will, so that God would reign in our life.” (Focolare, Spirituality of Unity, p.8). We have to wake up now not tomorrow even facing the pandemic.
Somehow, this pandemic has arrested us but we have to be creative enough in our current situation. The God of Israel who is always with us, is the one who helped Jesus say No to Satan. We are called to do God’s will. As the Spirituality of Unity says, “Doing God’s will doesn’t mean, as is often suggested, something that we must be resigned to. Rather, it is the greatest divine adventure that could happen to a person; following not your own tiny will, not your own limited goals but rather those of God, fulfilling that design of God that he has for each one of his sons and daughters, a divine plan, unimaginable and so rich. Loving God by doing his will became the second cardinal point of our spirituality of unity.” (SU,9)
As Pope Francis said to the Jesuits (during the Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Thanksgiving of the canonization of the first Jesuit priest –Friday, 3 January 2014):
“An authentic faith always involves a profound desire to change the world. Here is the question we must ask ourselves: do we also have great vision and impetus? Are we also daring? Do our dreams fly high? Does zeal consume us (cf. Ps 68:10)? Or are we mediocre and satisfied with our “made in the lab” apostolic programmes? Let us always remember: The Church’s strength does not reside in herself and in her organizational abilities, but it rests hidden in the deep waters of God. And these waters stir up our aspirations and desires expanding the heart. It is as St. Augustine says: pray to desire and aspire to expand the heart.”
Brothers and sisters, true spirituality should bring transformation and change. This change starts with us. The true Lenten season should help us move beyond ourselves, beyond our fear. This Lenten season must not be another one among many others that we’ve already experienced.
On this journey, God will never forsake us; the Holy Spirit will be faithful and Jesus will walk with us in our daily life and challenges.
Let’s pray with the psalmist: “O Lord make me know your ways. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me; for you are the God of my salvation” Ps 25.
Dcn Augustin Koffi, SJ