Sunday Reflection: Temptation Wise

The gospel reading for March 5 (Mark 1:12-15) is so short that I will enclose the whole thing:
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts,and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

I was struck by the action between the three characters in the first sentence: the Spirit, Jesus and Satan. Jesus is practically still dripping from his baptism in the Jordan when the Spirit of God throws him into a mano-a-mano with Satan. This is no cute celebrity death match, as shown on South Park, but a sign of what Jesus’ mission was at its core: a battle between opposing forces of spirit -- between Good and Evil.

I do agree with one reappearing theme of the recent Boston Catholic Men's Conference -- God and Satan are not metaphors for the good and evil we do; they are not psychological constructs that emerge from the wiring of our brains; and (good God!) they are not myths that tie us in with "the collective unconscious" or any other silly New Age babble. Even if we cannot completely get our minds around that reality, I firmly believe that they are real.

The gospel today underlines that reality by throwing Jesus into the ring immediately with his constant opponent -- the Murderer from the Beginning; the Father of Lies (John 8). Whether the "forty days" represents a literal span of 5-1/2 weeks, a symbolic recapitulation of the 40 days of wandering in the desert, or both, Jesus passes the test and emerges as at least a match for Satan. Freed now to undertake his mission, he preaches: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The “good news” (gospel), in Mark’s understanding, is linked intimately with Jesus’ triumph against Satan in the desert: The unchallenged reign of Satan has been checked. A new era is at hand. Turn away from the ways of Satan, whose enslavement (like Pharaoh’s!) of God’s people is so over!
Let us pray:

Lord, we amuse and distract ourselves with debates about the reality of Satan. During this period of Lent, let us acknowledge Satan's sway over us. Let us also recognize your mastery over him, his works, his pomps, his lies and his murderous intent. May we cling to you when our paths become dangerous and we become willing to throw our salvation to whatever or whoever will give us false assurances of safety. Help us to stand true to our life's work, and to speak with the boldness that comes from belonging to you, who have triumphed over evil.

We ask this in your name.

Photo by DAVID ENSOR, from the Blanford Forum Camera Club,