Gen 9: 8-15; 1PT 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15
On this First Sunday of Lent we encounter some rather extreme weather, not unlike what we have been experiencing here this past week or so. We go from the floods that Noah and his Ark encountered to the dry, desert heat of Jesus. In both cases, driven to these places of testing. Noah gets driven, in the midst of a fallen humanity in the Book of Genesis, into an Ark to be tested by the great floods and all the wild animals. Jesus, on the other hand, driven to the desert, by none other than the Spirit, to be tested by the devil. It’s hard not to imagine, if we were in these situations, that the thought of giving up did not cross their mind, in being pushed to such limits. I don’t even think we’d slight them if they did because we’d question whether we had the strength and perseverance to do what they had done.
Yet, much of this journey through Lent is an invitation to be driven by that same Spirit into the dry and barren places of our own souls or possibly in the midst of a great storm, as it is with Noah and all who were aboard the Ark. Can you imagine what it must have been like on that Ark for all that time and with all the animals and every living creature aboard? It becomes a place of great testing for him as it would be for us. Maybe an opportunity to encounter our fears? How about the chance to face our anxieties? All of this swirling around in the life of Noah as he spends this time aboard and within the Ark. It will be some time before he and all the inhabitants can come out of the Ark, but not before these great testings, sufferings, fears, and so much more. Yet, today we find God, with Noah, establishing a covenant with all of creation, that no matter what is faced, not even the largest of floods, God will remain true and faithful to His people. Not that they will believe that throughout salvation history, but over and over again, God will show His faithfulness to His people in the midst of their lives, including the most turbulent of times and when we too face our own wild beasts.
Now we hear the temptations of Jesus on the first Sunday of Lent every year. This year, though, in the Gospel of Mark, we encounter the shortest of the three. There seems to be no indication as in the Gospel of specific temptations other than Mark telling us that Jesus had been tempted, even among wild beasts. This too is that invitation. That, before we can go out and live the will of God faithfully, we are driven into those barren places in our souls, to, at times, even agonize over the pains that are carried within before they can be set free and like Noah, called out to live that life that God has placed within. Jesus goes out, has to face the wild beasts of the desert and the devil, and, being fully human, even the wild beasts that we wrestle with within us before he can go forward to Galilee to proclaim the Gospel of God, as we heard on Ash Wednesday and today, “repent and believe in the gospel”.
Over these coming weeks, we are invited to go deeper into this journey and to follow in the way of Jesus. The path to the Cross was not just his, it’s one that he invites all of us into as well. It will be this journey and flow from within to going out, a continuous conversion of heart and mind, to be set free of our own wild beasts that hold us down and hold us back from living life to its fullest. Or as St. Peter, to confront the spirits imprisoned within us. At one time or another in our lives, we must face that Cross head on and all that comes with it, reminded and mindful that God will see us through it. No matter how barren the desert and no matter how large the storm, in these weeks the Lord invites us to go forward, go deeper, into those places within our souls and allow them to be healed and set free so we too may come out, fulfilled and on fire to serve the Lord, but now from within.
All too often, as it is in Scripture, we must be driven to those places within; we can’t do it ourselves. We’ll avoid them. We’ll try to fix them. When in reality, it’s healing that changes. It’s letting go that changes. It’s, as Noah and Jesus did faithfully, it is surrendering that changes the hearts and minds. Sometimes we must be pushed there; God knows we won’t go on our own. But once we do, faith becomes a reality, the covenant that God makes becomes a reality, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing of our own wild beasts become the reality. We are truly set free from all that binds into the hands of God, into the will of God waiting to raise all that has died. It is the journey that we enter into as we too journey this season to the Cross of Calvary.