Sunday 21 February 2021 – Lent 1

Photo by Benjamin Grull on Unsplash

Today’s readings: Genesis 9.8-17; Mark 1.9-15

Today is the first Sunday in Lent and in our Gospel today we read Mark’s short and to the point description of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Matthew and Luke also cover this incident in their gospels – but their accounts are very different from Mark’s. For one thing, they are much longer – Mark covers the whole thing in a brisk 34 words, while Matthew and Luke take much more time and provide much more detail. But it would be a mistake to skate quickly over Mark’s account or think of it as minor, because what it lacks in words it makes up for in impact.

Take another look. Here it is in full.

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

It is short, yes, but it is far from small. Everything about the content is big. We have the Holy Spirit, who immediately drives Jesus out into the wilderness. This is no gentle nudge – can you imagine the power and force of God instantly driving you ahead, impelling you forwards? We have the wilderness itself – I don’t know what you think about when you think of the wilderness, but in Israel the wilderness is mountainous desert, bleak and forbidding, nothing small or tame here.

The 40 days – that’s a long time to be alone in an inhospitable wilderness. And this is no camping trip either, what with Satan and wild animals for company, not to mention angels.

So yes, this is short, but it’s full of power and drama. It lacks the detail of Matthew and Luke, but on the other hand that means that every word counts, every word packs a punch and nothing can be ignored. Just 34 words – but so much impact.

This passage is absolutely characteristic of Mark’s Gospel, and if you are joining us in our daily reading of Mark in Lent you will quickly come to recognise this style – concise, punchy text which moves quickly from one thing to another, as if Mark knows there is a lot to cover and wants to waste no time. I hope you will also quickly recognise that the lack of words does not mean a lack of important content. In fact, the trick with Mark is to remember to slow down, not to allow the speed of the narrative to make you rush over the dense content. It is easy to dash through this short Gospel – I hope you will allow yourself to take it at a slow pace, to immerse yourself in the story.

Like Jesus in the wilderness, we will be taking 40 days to make this journey. Let’s make each day count.