Gen 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22. Mark 1:9-15
Lent has begun! What is Lent and what is it about?
An English Priest, The Reverend Charles Royden, told this story on the first Sunday of Lent.
‘A painter who painted the house of a little old lady began painting the masonry all over the house and was using a lot of paint. So he thinned it down with a bit of water. Then he thought, if I keep on watering it down I will save a bundle and the old woman won’t know the difference. So he kept on watering it down. When he had finished, it started to rain and all the paint started washing of the brickwork. Then a voice came from the thundery clouds above:
‘Repaint and thin no more!’
Lent is about repentance and sin but there is more to discover about Lent.
Our Gospel reading today presents us with three very short episodes. The first is Jesus Baptism by John the Baptist, the second – Jesus is sent out into the wilderness by the Spirit and is tempted by the devil, the third event, Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. Today I want to focus on the Second event.
After God speaks from Heaven in verse 11 saying, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well Pleased’ we move very quickly to the second episode. Verse 12 tells us that ‘the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. In our Lenten Study, Let me go there by Paula Gooder, examines the theme of wilderness. In chapter 2, she looks specifically at our Gospel passage for today. The first point Paula makes is surprising. It’s easy to miss without a close reading of the Gospel. Isn’t Jesus already in the Wilderness with John the Baptist? Didn’t John the Baptist go out into the Wilderness to announce the preparation of the way of the Lord? Didn’t Jesus meet John there to be baptised? How is it then, that the Spirit can drive Jesus out into the wilderness?
Mark sometimes has a way of confusing his readers, getting locations muddled. In Mark 8:10 and 22 Jesus is reported to cross the Sea of Galilee only to end up back on the same side he began! Is this what is happening here?
More likely Mark is trying to communicate something greater than a purely physical location. In Mark, the language of crossing over to the other side signifies a moment of transformation is on its way. In the same way, going out into the wilderness suggests that redemption is on its way. At any rate, Mark’s gospel is highlighting the theme of Wilderness. It is important. Mark is saying look here, I want you to take note.
In verse 13 our gospel reading states, ‘Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. In this one sentence, Paul Gooder says that there are three groups of characters introduced: Satan, the wild beasts and the angels. Paula makes the point that in this short passage is a ‘profound theological point’. Mark is alluding to another story, another temptation narrative. One that makes Marks temptation story more real. The story of the temptation of Adam and Eve. Satan comes as a serpent, Adam and Eve were in harmony with God’s creation and that includes the beasts of the field and a ‘less known tradition is that Adam and Eve were fed by ministering Angels in the Garden of Eden’.
Mark, in verse 13 is making a statement, loud and clear. The story of Adam and Eve provoke in our imagination the harmony and peace in which they resided in the presence of God. Adam and Eve were tempted and in Mark’s gospel, Jesus, like them is tempted by Satan, not in a garden but in the wilderness. Yet this time Jesus resisted the temptations Satan presented him and in so doing brought God’s redemption and freedom. Jesus could now freely go preach the gospel to the people of Israel.
Sin and Redemption. From Jesus example in Mark’s gospel, we learn that temptation is real. Jesus did not sin, he overcame the temptation that was presented before him. Temptations to claim power over the kingdoms of the earthly and spiritual worlds. The message for us today is to be aware and to be vigilant. The moment you decide to take up something or to lay down something for lent, temptation will come knocking.
In 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 8 we read:
‘Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering’.
Everyone of us will face temptation. No one is exempt. Mark shows us the path to redemption. In the wilderness experiences of our lives, God is with us. The story I began with may be funny, Repaint and Thin no more, but it gets the message across. This is the invitation of Lent. The invitation to live a holy life.
So at the beginning of this Lent, we are asked to reflect on our own experiences of wilderness, bringing to God the times we have experienced hope or despair, rejoicing or sadness, and to confess those things that get between us and our relationship with God.
We come now for the imposition of Ashes bringing our lives before God.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 See, for example Babylonian Sanhedrin 59b which contains: ‘Adam reclined in the Garden of Ecen, whilst the ministering angels roasted flesh an strained wine for him’, in Let Me Go There, Paula Gooder, p. 49.