This first Sunday of Lent we hear a very bare bones reference by Mark to Jesus temptation in the desert. The details of the temptations and the conversation between Jesus and Satan are left out as we hear in Matthew but Mark’s version contains a very intriguing comment: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.”
If we have embraced the spirit of Lent we may want to ask ourselves what “drives” us to make the choices we do. What ideas, emotions, ideologies or maybe others compel us to do what we do?
Bishop Robert Barron, in commentary on our Gospel passage from the Word on Fire Bible writes: "Christianity is above all, a way of seeing. Everything else in Christin life flows from and circles around the transformation of vision. Christians see differently, and that is why their prayer, their worship, their action, their whole way of being in the world have a distinctive accent and flavor."
Lent is a good time, then, to examine our motivations and how we personally see the world through our Christian faith or maybe how we should be viewing the world as Christians in light of our need for conversion. So, Mark states that Jesus went to the desert driven by the Spirit, meaning Holy Spirit. That same Spirit which appeared above him at his baptism is the same Spirit which compels Jesus out to the desert to fast, pray, and wrestle with the forces of darkness - to embrace the mission ahead of him and to choose his Father’s way. Most importantly, to confront the “father of lies” (Satan) and the forces of evil itself. It is a model of what we too are invited to do what we do in our personal spiritual lives.
We may even be bold enough to ask, what drives God to do what he does? Who knows the mind of the divine? Who of us creatures would ever second guess God? Our first reading this Sunday gives us some indication as to God’s motives: love and mercy. The story of Noah and the flood may seem initially harsh though.
As the story goes, God is basically fed up with humanity and our sinfulness and intends to destroy human life on the earth. He recognizes Noah and his family, however, and their faithfulness so he desires to at least spare them destruction by water. He sees the non-human life on earth as a reflection of his beauty and not guilty for simply being what they are. But, people have the power to choose and have been created in God’s image and likeness. So, they know better essentially. Seems a God whose patience has reached its end with humanity in general?
But, our reading from Genesis this Sunday picks up after the flood has receded and Noah and his family have landed on dry ground. God makes a covenant with humanity – a permanent divine pledge – “I will establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you . . . never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood . . .I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign. . .”
While God is of justice he is more of mercy and new life. To make a covenant relationship with his lowly creatures is not to establish equality between partners but a pledge of love and mercy to us. God is always motivated to choose by the force of love that he is. In Christ we see this visibly in human form and the cross of Christ is the new sign of the new covenant that God has established with us. From the bow to the cross we might say. This Lent I think it calls us to examine the motivation behind our choices.
Our walk in this desert experience of Lent is a call to self-examination and to be strengthened as we too wrestle each day with light and darkness in our lives. Though Jesus was tempted mightily as we hear in Matthew and perhaps even more as Mark implies: "He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan . . ." he consistently resisted and confronted this leader of deception. By the time Satan relented, although not completely, he knew he was defeated.
Is our faith behind the choices we make? Do we see life differently than the world around us or are we simply invisible to others, especially non-believers? We too were baptized and we were also filled with the same Spirit which hovered over Jesus and was the inner force compelling him to carry out the mission of salvation.
However, when we examine our reasons, we might find they are motivated by less spiritual forces such as a higher pay check, a more beautiful location, a more convenient opportunity, a nicer group of people to work with, or something else related to such reasons. These are not wrong in themselves and are very common. If you are married with a family you certainly have a moral obligation to provide for them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to advance and be able to provide more financial support, etc.
But, is there a deeper more spiritual force for you? Is our life centered on the pursuit of abundance or have we adopted this Lent a more sacrificial tone? We should imitate the same reasons why God does what he does . Our love for him and our love for others should be the driving force, motivated by his Spirit. As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage this Sunday it might be helpful to examine reasons for the choices I make.
As we move to the Holy Eucharist we receive what Jesus choose for us - his very Body and Blood. Out of extravagant love he chose to pour out everything for us. What greater model could we possibly have for our choices?
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
(Collect of Sunday Mass)