I hope and pray this letter finds you well and keeping safe. This week we begin our familiar yet difficult journey to the cross with the start of the Lenten period. We explore a reading from Mark’s gospel in which Jesus goes into the wilderness. You could say that we are currently in a wilderness period during this pandemic, a time of isolation and struggle, of difficulty and pain. The wilderness can be a place of peace, reflection, of challenge and of spiritual growth, so, like many things there are two sides to it. Are there any other periods in your life when you look back and think it was a wilderness period? What did you learn? How did you feel? Did you experience growth as a person or as a Christian?
Jesus’ ministry for this week goes back to the very beginning when in the first part of the passage we read from Mark 1: 9 -15, which concerns His baptism. Again, in his usual style Mark describes the events in a very matter of fact way. Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As Jesus comes up out of the water, He sees heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. Jesus has recounted this to Mark for him to explain it and the language here is more pictorial and metaphorical than usual further indicating it has not originated from Mark. A voice is heard from heaven, saying ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ This resonates with last week and the similar words spoken to Jesus after the transfiguration. This shows how God is pleased with Jesus, His Son, knowing what Jesus would do and achieve in His life on earth.
The text then states that Jesus was sent into the wilderness where He stayed for forty days and was tempted by Satan. This must have been an awfully hard time for Jesus being alone, isolated, and probably wondering about the rest of his ministry and all the things that lay ahead. The time would have also been very profitable, for Jesus to sit down, think and pray and spend time with God the Father, without any interruptions guided by the Holy Spirit. We are told by Mark that He was with wild animals thus highlighting how tough it was. Notice that Mark does not go into much detail here or say that Jesus overcame Satan. Mark could be implying that Satan tempted Jesus throughout His ministry and it was not just limited to His time in the wilderness. After this period is over notice that John is put in prison and Jesus begins proclaiming people are to repent and believe the good news. So here it is presented as if John is handing over the baton to Jesus who continues where he has left off. This is of course incredibly sad that John’s ministry has ended this way, but the writing implies hope with the start of Jesus’ ministry.
As we begin Lent, I would like to encourage you during this time to view this wilderness period as difficult as it is as an opportunity to grow and develop. This may seem harsh and uncaring, but it is not supposed to be, but as we journey through Lent together let us use this time to grow as Christians, and reflect how we have changed through this pandemic, what lessons we have learned and how they might help us in the future.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, bless us now and always,