A Reflection of Mark 1:13
By Nathan Esser
I sometimes wish the Bible gave more in the way of concrete imagery. The physical task of writing was so painstakingly slow in ancient times, much early literature gets straight to the point. The Gospels, especially, tend to tell even the most poignant tales in a simple, matter-of-fact way. “And Jesus wept.” “And there they crucified him between two thieves.” “He is not here. He is risen.” When you do happen across descriptive language in the biblical texts it’s because the writer is trying to tell you something that succinct language cannot convey.
That’s why I’m so taken with the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It’s an anomaly. It goes to the trouble of describing John the Baptist’s wardrobe and diet. It likens the Spirit to a dove. It goes out of its way to tell us that, after his baptism, Jesus fled out into the wilderness for forty days, where he was “tempted by Satan.” Mark deems it necessary to inform us that, in the wilderness, “he was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”
Mark’s not usually a big talker, but he gives us a stark visual image of those forty days in the desert. He implies forty days of hardship; forty long afternoons of searing sunlight in the narrow shade of a rock; forty cold desert nights spent on the chilly ground; forty days of fending off the wild beasts, bands of hungry jackals, feral dogs, cobras, and birds of prey. Have you ever wondered how exactly Jesus was tempted in the wilderness - out there among the rocks, and the sunlight, and the wild beasts?
I often think that Jesus was tempted to turn his back on his own belovedness. I imagine him spending those forty hard and lonely days struggling with the voice he heard at his baptism, telling him that he was chosen and loved. Jesus spent his time in the wilderness coming to terms with the realization that he is God’s own. Now that he knows he’s loved, he can no longer live quietly for himself and so he throws himself into all causes of love out there in a greedy and unjust world.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6th at 7pm with a joint worship service along with pastors and members from Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Little Stone Church, Wildflower Presbyterian Church and the Table of Grace. Before Lent begins, ask yourself how you might spend these forty days distancing yourself from the noise of the world, opening yourself to the new possibilities of this season.
Easter morning is coming along with the power, glory and light of the resurrection - but first we journey in the wilderness with wild beasts.
Nathan is the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Sioux Falls. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.