Before beginning to narrate Jesus’ prophetic activity, Mark tells us that the Spirit drove him into the desert. He stayed there 40 days, letting himself be tempted by Satan; he lived among the wild beasts, and angels served him. These short lines are a summary of the temptations or basic tests lived out by Jesus up until he was put to death on the cross.
Jesus hasn’t known an easy or quiet life. He’s been driven by the Spirit, but he’s felt the powers of evil in his own flesh. His passionate self-giving to God’s project has brought him to an existence torn by conflicts and tensions. It is from him that we his followers need to learn to live through times of testing.
«The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert»
The Spirit doesn’t lead him toward a comfortable life. The Spirit brings him to paths of testing, dangers and temptations. It’s always risky to seek God’s reign and God’s justice, to announce God without falsification, to work for a more human world. It was risky for Jesus and will be for his followers.
«He stayed in the desert for 40 days»
The desert represents the scene in which Jesus’ whole life takes place. This inhospitable and completely unwelcoming place symbolizes testing and difficulties. It’s the best place to learn to live by what’s essential, but also the most dangerous place for someone left abandoned to one’s own forces.
«Tempted by Satan»
Satan signifies «the enemy», the power that is hostile to God and to those who work for God’s reign. In temptation one discovers that there is something in us of truth and lies, of light and darkness, of faithfulness to God and of complicity with injustice.
Throughout his life, Jesus will keep watch to discover «Satan» in the most unexpected places. One day he rebukes Peter with these words: «Get away from me, Satan, for your thoughts are not those of God». We need to live through times of testing, just like him, paying attention to what can lead us away from God.
«He was with the wild animals and angels looked after him»
The wild beasts, the most violent creatures on the earth, evoke the dangers that will threaten Jesus. The angels, the most kind beings in creation, suggest God’s closeness, the One who blesses, cares for and sustains him. Thus Jesus will live: defending himself from Antipas, the one called “Fox”, and seeking his Father’s power in his nocturnal prayer.
We need to live these difficult times with eyes fixed on Jesus. It is the Spirit of God that is driving us toward the desert. From this crisis will come one day a Church that is more human and more faithful to her Lord.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf