Symbols for Lent

By: By Barbara Roedel

First Sunday of Lent, March 1

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

At first glance the temptation scene in Mark’s Gospel appears sparse compared to Matthew and Luke’s versions. But today’s readings are anything but sparse. We begin our Lenten season with a rich mosaic of meaning and symbols — the ark and water, rainbow and covenant, baptism and desert, Spirit and Satan, beasts and angels.

Jesus, after being baptized by John, was immediately driven into the desert by the Spirit where he was tempted by Satan. Inhabited with wild beasts and bandits, the desert was rife with danger. It was a place of trial, a place to be feared, but also a place to encounter God. Mark’s Gospel does not tell us how Jesus was tempted by Satan, however it conjures images of wild beasts lying in wait to do Jesus harm.

In the desert, away from the hectic routine of daily living, Jesus is free from distractions. Through 40 days of fasting and prayer, Jesus is able to weigh his choices clearly. Jesus rejects Satan and turns to God. Jesus recognized God’s presence with him as angels ministered to him. The heavenly words at Jesus’ baptism also must have been a source of strength, courage and hope during this time of trial. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

After the temptation, Jesus goes to Galilee and begins proclaiming the exciting news that the time of fulfillment is now. The kingdom of God is today if we repent and believe in the gospel.

Our desert is our human heart and our wild beasts are the temptations and sins which test us. We walk through dark valleys of life at times, through the trauma of fighting a disease or addictions, the pain of loneliness and isolation, the death of a loved one, or apathy towards those who are hungry and homeless.

Just as angels ministered to Jesus, the Spirit is our guide and comforter when we face our beasts. Baptismal waters flood our desert hearts and painful human experiences to give us strength to continually turn away from sin and turn towards God. Jesus walked there before us; and he walks there now with us.

During this Lenten season, be deliberate to take time to step apart from the demands of daily life. Meditate on what beasts you need to confront. Whatever the challenges we face as humans and as a society, we know Jesus was also confronted with these same challenges. Be aware of the people around you, who minister to you during these difficult trials, who help you turn your focus back to the good news.

Repent and believe! This requires active participation by turning from sin and believing in the Gospel. Through baptism we share in God’s covenant of life. We are called to actively participate in the Gospel of God.

Barbara Roedel is the pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

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