Sunday, March 1, 2009
Jesus' Temptation in the Desert
For thousands of years, it has been the custom of the Aboriginal peoples here in Australia to go on a "walkabout," an adolescent rite of passage where they head into the bush for up to six months to fend for themselves, retrace the "songlines" or paths and customs of their ancient ancestors, and imitate in their own way their forebearers' heroic deeds. A person was not considered adult until this experience was completed, and from that point on, the person took up new roles and responsibilities amongst the tribe.
It is hard not to think of Jesus' experience in the desert as a rite of passage of sorts, whereby he discovers that he has the wherewithal to transcend the temptations posed to him by Satan, and the faith he needs to move forward in his ministry. He takes up the prophetic mantle modeled by his forebearers and turns all of his energy toward his mission, proclaiming and revealing the Kingdom of God. While in the baptism, he experiences the revelation that he is the beloved son of God, it seems that it is only on the basis of this trial in the desert that this identity is proved. He knows now who he is, and what he must do. Strangely, it is only through this experience of temptation and trial that he discovers his mettle and comes to fully trust the providence of his Father. Perhaps this message is meaningful to us too?
Below is a reflection I found online concerning this passage in Mark's Gospel:
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, 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.”
The good news which is Jesus Christ
The first thing to notice about Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus is its brevity. Mark says everything in three unembellished sentences that do not even mention the content of the temptation. His account appears very bare vis-a-vis Matthew’s and Luke’s descriptive telling of the event.
To appreciate what Mark is trying to say, the reader must go back to the opening of the Markan Gospel, which reads like a title of the entire work: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” The original Greek expression can also be rendered in English with a slightly different nuance: “The beginning of the good news, which is Jesus Christ, Son of God.” When rendered this way, the term “good news” is understood not only as “concerning” Jesus Christ; rather, Jesus Christ is Himself the good news. The reader would then understand that Mark is not only giving information about Jesus Christ, but is rather making a disclosure about His identity. Thus, the bareness of the account of the temptation would come as no surprise because even here, Mark does not intend to tell his readers how the event happened, but to lead them to the identity of Jesus Christ.
Mark’s short account of the temptation is shot through with allusions from the Old Testament. When he speaks of Jesus’ being in the wasteland for forty days, one of the many events evoked in memory is the “undoing” of creation at the time of Noah, through forty days and nights of continued rains that brought about the killer-flood. Mark is insinuating to his readers that with Jesus’ forty-day sojourn in the desert, another “undoing” is about to take place.
He does not say it explicitly, but gradually leads his readers to recognize this through another allusion. He says that Jesus “was among wild beasts.” With this statement, Mark paints an image of peaceful coexistence, which is meant to remind the readers, first, of the pristine relationships of man and beasts that characterized creation before the fall (Gn 1:28; 2:19-20), and second, of the prophets’ vision of the coming age of salvation (Is 11:6-9; 65:17-25; Hos 2:18).
Thus, Mark leads the readers to identify Jesus as the second Adam, whose coming marks the dawning of the new creation. Jesus, like Adam, is tempted, but unlike Adam, He does not succumb. By His obedience, He counters the disobedience of the first Adam, and “undoes” the consequences of sin, thus ushering in the new creation, which is really a going back to the Creator. This idea of “going back” features prominently in the message that Jesus eventually proclaims as He emerges from the desert.
“Repent!” The Hebrew language conveys the idea of “repentance” with the word “shubh,” which literally means “to go back” to the right path, and therefore, to God. Jesus does not explicitly say how this return journey to God is to be carried out, but hHe immediately adds another imperative – “believe in the gospel!” To “believe in the gospel” is to “put faith in Jesus Christ,” for He Himself is the good news. To believe is not just to give one’s intellectual assent, but to commit oneself, to surrender one’s whole being to the object of one’s belief. This is how the return to God is to be carried out. To believe the good news is to commit oneself to Jesus Christ. This commitment can only lead to repentance, which is the return journey to God.
For a Christian, committing oneself to Christ is a moment-by-moment endeavor that stretches to the entire lifetime. Lest we forget this commitment, the Church sets aside forty days in the liturgical calendar to intensely remind us and call us to renewal.
SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph