Lent comes around each year and presents us with its usual challenge to take stock of our lives, to see more clearly what is in our hearts, and to discover what might be calling us out of our comfort zones. It is a time for personal as well as group reflection, a time for entering into ‘the wilderness’ and grappling with the mysteries of life, as well as a time of preparation for Easter when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the greatest mysteries of our faith.
Gen 9:8-15 & 1 Peter 3:18-22
The readings from Genesis and 1 Peter evoke the destructive yet life-giving waters of the great flood of old. They invite us to reflect on our baptism as a participation in God’s covenant with all of creation, with ‘every living creature of every kind’. The reading from 1 Peter reminds us of God’s will to ‘save’ and of God’s triumph over the forces that oppose God’s ways of being in the world.
The four verses that make up today’s gospel present a little drama that is played out in several ‘worlds’: the celestial, the human, the animal and the ‘wilderness’ worlds. Jesus is, as usual, the main character.
The Spirit, Satan, God and God’s angels, members of God’s heavenly court, represent the celestial world. The ‘wild beasts’ interact with the ‘angels’ in the wilderness. Numbers feature symbolically, as do settings and characters.
God’s Spirit has featured in the previous scene: Jesus is the chosen one of God on whom God’s Spirit rests, the one sent to be a light to the peoples. Now the Spirit impels Jesus into the wilderness, the place of beginnings for Israel. Satan, a member of God’s heavenly court, tests (a better translation of the Greek than ‘tempts’) him.
Jesus is tested for 40 days, just as the people of Israel were tested during their 40-year ordeal in the wilderness. Jesus passes the test that Israel failed. He is ‘with the wild beasts’. This evokes Isaiah’s prophecy of a time when God would reign, a time of reconciliation, of trust, of harmony and peace: ‘ The wolf shall lie down with the lamb…’(Isa 11:6-9). Jesus is with the wild beasts, but is not devoured, because God looks after him. He reconciles the most seemingly irreconcilable elements.
This little gospel scene provides a microcosm of the ministry of Jesus, and of his struggle to overcome the opposing forces that threaten the success of his mission. God’s power breaks through, Jesus announces the ‘time’ of God’s reign. This is not a matter of clock time ( chronos) but of God’s time ( kairos), the time to turn our lives in God’s direction. The tense of the verb is continuous: the invitation is to continually ‘think beyond’ and turn our lives towards God. Lent helps us to focus on that invitation.