by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beats, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God": "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Jesus invites us to follow Him, to imitate Him. Knowing this helps us to try to do so without becoming overly focused on the fact that there is something very different about Him. He is God. This should be on our minds as we follow Him, but it should not intimidate us. He really suffered when He was tempted. When we are tempted we should to try to imitate Jesus. This Sunday, we find Jesus in the desert among the beasts being tempted by Satan — with angels (no less) ministering to Him.
Having begun the days of Lent we should be experiencing the way our personally chosen sacrifices feel. Jesus’ example helps us. First, we notice that His “desert experience” was one He began when the Holy Spirit “drove” Him to it. We can be sure that Jesus was supremely docile. He went willingly and whole-heartedly into these days of sacrifice and prayer. We know a great deal more detail about these days from the Gospel of St. Matthew, of course. In a way, though, the sparseness of St. Mark’s account can help us see the importance of allowing the Spirit to lead us into the spiritual discipline of Lent without additional drama. We are called by the church to enter into these days with a willing spirit, a willingness to be renewed in our own spirit.
Everything that Jesus did was done out of perfect obedience to the will of His Father. The most striking thing He did was offer His life for us on the Cross. His days in the desert were days spent on this same road — obedient suffering for our salvation. In other words, Jesus made sacrifices out of love for others, out of love for all, out of love for His Father. We would never be able to understand it if Jesus chose another road even for a moment. Yet, we are strengthened by knowing that His temptations were real. His freedom was engaged against other possibilities and He chose the way of suffering. When we are faced with temptations that make obedience appear unattractive, we recall the steadfast way of Jesus.
We find no description about what role or what effect the wild beasts had on Jesus’ stay in the desert. Given the fact that He was their Creator it seems reasonable to think that He was helped by them more than harmed. We can imagine “a greater than” St. Francis here. The “beast” who caused Him the difficulties He faced so well was Satan. The wild beasts are mentioned to indicate to us that Jesus was in a most remote place. The battle was waged between the perfectly good Jesus and the lying leader of all the fallen angels. For Jesus, this battle was everything, His life’s work. Seeing everything clearly, as He did, Jesus was willing to accept all manner of sacrifice and discomfort for the sake of accomplishing the victory of love over hatred, of life over death. The abundant life He lived would not be tolerant of the suggestions of Satan that this world’s pleasures or honors somehow offered Him more.
Our noble efforts to imitate Jesus should include willing sacrifices as found in our Lenten practices. Jesus and the saints also teach us that we should sacrifice the burdens that come to us based on our vocation and state in life. Endurance of the things we cannot change is a way of living our mission to help Jesus in His. Imitating His peaceful and decisive rejection of what is evil and worldly teaches us how to share even now in the beauty of being spiritually alert and attuned to the love that is eternal. The willing offering up of the many possible pleasures before us gives us a greater appetite for the greater ones that we will be able to keep forever. We can be like Jesus because He became like us.
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