We have entered a new season in the church called Lent, a time of preparation for the great feast of Easter. At Easter, we will celebrate in a particular way Jesus dying and rising to new life--so full of the life of God that he can never die again! But before we celebrate, we prepare. There will be six purple Sundays to prepare for the feast.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we hear about what happens right after Jesus is baptized. A few weeks ago, we heard the Spirit descend like a dove and a voice from heaven say to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In this beautiful moment, Jesus knows himself loved by God. He knows God is pleased with him. And then this happens:
After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Things have changed! The Holy Spirit is hardly "like a dove" anymore. Now the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. We know that there are no cars in Jesus' time, but we can understand that the Holy Spirit is wrapping Jesus up and hurrying him along, urging him onwards into the wilderness. There is no car here, but we can say that God is in the driver's seat--God determines that Jesus needs to be in the wilderness.
Could Jesus refuse to go? Oh, yes. He is probably tempted to leave the wilderness over and over. Although St. Mark does not tell us exactly how Satan tempts Jesus, we can imagine that if God drives Jesus into the wilderness, then Satan tempts him to leave.
It is good that Jesus knows that he is beloved. It is good that he knows God is pleased with him, because it does not sound like an easy time in the wilderness.
God has determined that Jesus needs to be here for forty days with nothing but angels and wild beasts for company. Angels and wild beasts, heaven and earth. With all heaven and earth, God has Jesus' attention. There are no distractions here in the wilderness.
Why does God do this? What does this time in the wilderness do for Jesus? When he leaves, he begins to tell everyone:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
How can he say this? What does he mean, 'the kingdom of God has come near'? Jesus has lived with the wild beasts and angels together. He has come out of the wilderness unharmed. He has lived in this wild place in peace.
Jesus has spent all this time with God. He knows what is possible.
'Repent,' Jesus says. That means, 'turn around.' Turn around, the kingdom of God has come near! He has seen it in the wilderness. If we turn around, in a great wide circle, what will we see?
We have been baptized, like Jesus. We know that we, too, are beloved by God. So does the Holy Spirit drive us out into the wilderness, too? Each year we celebrate Lent, these 40 days. We put aside distractions--maybe a television show, maybe junk food, maybe video games--and we let God take the driver's seat. Can we refuse? Oh, yes. We will be tempted over and over, and sometimes we'll give in, but each time we will start again. Because God is driving us. This is God's time and God needs us here. What will we see?