And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1: 12-13
The gospel of Mark is very succinct about the temptations, unlike the other gospels. They give us long elaborate details of the conversation between Jesus and the devil. There was no mention about fasting. Nothing to clarify what he was doing there. Maybe it was not necessary for the readers. They might have been aware of all these details. It is said that this particular gospel was indeed the earliest gospel to be written. The first Christians tended to be people from a poorer class. The Early Church attracted slaves, the lost sheep and disenfranchised gentiles. All of these were accustomed to be allocated a place in the wilderness by their societies. Most of the time these people find their solace in unlikely place. Perhaps this is why there is a peculiar reference to wild beasts and angels. They were living in the wilderness. There was no need to describe their own reality to them. Jesus, on the other hand, needed to prepare Himself to live in their reality. He needed time in the wilderness to be prepared for the harsh reality of life.
I mentioned the season of Lent to our children once. It was a few years ago. I felt like someone trying to ask a starving person to give up sweets. Besides, the whole concept was strange to them. They had never heard about it despite being a predominately Catholic nation. However, they know about Ash Wednesday. It is the day that Carnaval* ends. In other words, it is the day when the partying ends. The children don’t necessarily participate in the revelries of Carnaval. However, it’s festive mood is contagious. People feel freer. Social boundaries are disrupted momentarily. The rhythmic beat of samba inspires even those with two left feet to venture out to dance. Fortunately, I am quite stoic about these things. I have a good imagination and I can picture my awkward dance attempts too vividly. It is understandable why a tourist watching the celebration of Carnaval might think that Brazil is closest thing to an utopian paradise. All the races and social classes mingling together and enjoying each other’s company as equals. It is quite deceptive. All this euphoria and utopic manifestations end when the music stops playing. Everyone goes back to reality when Ash Wednesday begins. Lent is associating with reality. The children don’t need a special word to distinguish it from the rest of their lives. They live in the wilderness of harsh reality.
Besides, what can I say about Lent to our children? None of them spent Christmas at home. Some of them don’t remember their birthdays. They are all sick from a cold and their noses are constantly runny. Unfortunately, they have given this unwanted gift to me as well. They are already living a life of extreme deprivation. They constantly meet the devil. He is always tempting them to take the short cuts; promising them things that he never fulfill. He uses the same tactics as he did with Jesus. Food, wealth, and power is given to them only if they participate in what he proposes. Our children are constantly hungry, poor and powerless. It means that they have resisted in some shape or form the temptations of the enemy.
Dreyson ran up to us when he saw us. He gave a big hug and told us that he had been waiting for our return. We had been away for a month. His enthusiastic welcome was very good for our self-esteem. He wanted to do something with us. We played a game and, of course, it was intermingled with questions and gossip. Then he told us that he had to stop. He was too hungry. He said that he was going to look for food. Before he left, he told us that he wanted our help to get his documents. He is still determined to take the necessary steps forward to better himself. Then he went out looking for food. He did not need our help for that. He is going to eat whatever that is given to him at the restaurants or by a kind stranger. What can I say to him about Lent? Give up chocolates or ice cream, fast a few days a week…..Perhaps there is nothing to say. Maybe Lent is not for him but for those who have created a superficial world outside the wilderness. Every Lent, the Holy Spirit challenges those who have created a world outside the wilderness to take a step into something new and wonderful and perhaps even poignant. In the process, we discover the gospel in more profound manner.
Before Jesus went into the wilderness, He was a carpenter. He had a trade and a secure living for His time. He wasn’t a rich man by any means because there were very few people back than and even now who were rich. We could say that He had a safe and secure future. The Hebrew slaves were also safe and secure in their state of captivity in Egypt before they stepped into the wilderness. Being safe and secure is not the gospel or a blessing. Countless people who heeded the Holy Spirit’s prompting to step into the unknown places exchanged safety and security for copious blessings. They discovered the gospel. The way of the gospel is a passage into the wilderness. It helps us see clearly the meaning of the gospel. Jesus would have had nothing to say if He did not go through the wilderness. It was the place where He discovered what was essential and necessary for abundant life. In the same way, we will never discover what is necessary for the gospel to be the gospel until we are willing to step into the wilderness with nothing but the Holy Spirit has our guide.
Jesus did not need to go far to go into his wilderness. The Holy Spirit brought him there. Every Lent, God invites us to go to a place where He will show us what is needful for us to understand the blessing of the gospel. It is not about giving up chocolate or other special treats. It is not about repenting so that we can gain salvation. It is a gift from God. It is about discovering what salvation means for our lives.
Have a Blessed Lent. It is season for us to discover the meaning of salvation.