Deserts and Wild Beasts

The First Sunday in Lent, year B of the Church’s liturgical cycle, takes us into the desert with Jesus to be tempted by Satan and harassed by wild beasts. This gospel is one we can easily relate to in our own lives.

Mark 1:12-15

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.”

Here are a few thoughts as we take off into the desert for forty days to fast and pray with Jesus:

What is my desert?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Deserts are known to be dry and barren, empty of exciting attractions and from hiding places like boulders, hills, mountains, or trees. They aren’t too comfortable, either–hot and windy with sand gusts, no shade from the relentless sun, no food, and definitely no water.

You get the picture.

Each one of us experiences in our lives some sort of hypothetical desert. It’s personalized for each of us, depending on our circumstances, of course. Maybe our desert is of our own making, a result of some sin pattern, a personal weakness, or a particular challenge of some sort. Or perhaps exterior forces outside our control have come upon us, leaving us lost in the desert without a compass.

Perhaps in my heart lies a dry, arid spot that still cries out for redemption. A place I tend to avoid.

Yet, do we realize that place is precisely where Jesus waits for us?

Where in your life do you experience stagnation … being stuck … even bored? Is there a situation that, try as you might, you can’t seem to change? What do you dread facing in your life, but pretend isn’t there?

What are the wild beasts–the temptations?

Can you imagine a mere man (The man, Jesus, was God, but did not use his omnipotence as God because he wanted to experience fully our human nature) in the wild, unprotected by wild animals that roam freely looking for food? I must say when I picture this scene of the Temptation in the Desert I usually don’t think of wild beasts coming at Jesus. But the scripture indicates that is what happened. Jesus must have had to struggle to keep them away, even physically fight them away with a large stick or something (did He have a stick? Was there even wood around?).

Besides physically fending away the wild beasts, Jesus definitely had human emotions to fight. He must have felt fear and anxiety at night, hoping a wild hyena pack won’t find him. Trusting in the Father was his only weapon in the interior fight. He had to practice relying on the Father over and over for forty days. Therefore, he knows what trauma is like. He knows what it is to be tempted to give in to fear. He had to die to the natural, human tendency to panic. Not only regarding dangerous beasts, but how he could actually survive without food or drink so long. What a constant battle of the mind that must have been!

Tempted by Satan

And who’s to say those “wild beasts” weren’t demons in the form of beasts? Maybe they were. We don’t know.

But we do know the devil himself was the real villain–Lucifer, the angel of light that fell from heaven, now become evil incarnate. He camped out in the desert, also, during those forty days. We also know how he tempted Jesus and how Jesus responded. St. Matthew shows Satan tempting Jesus with bread, power, and worldly recognition. Jesus refutes Satan by the power of God’s word (Mt. 4: 1-11), and wins the victory three times over Satan. St. Mark does not give those details. He only states that Jesus was “tempted by Satan.”

Perseverance in the Desert

There was a reason for everything Jesus did in the Bible. He could have skipped the forty days in the desert and still won victory over both fleshly temptations and Satanic ones. He did not need to fast, for sure. Right? For that matter, He also did not need to be crucified to save us. He chose to to show the extend of his love for us and the Father. But that is another topic for another time.

It is a common conclusion that Jesus went through all his suffering to share as much as possible in our human condition. He also wanted to teach us how to combat temptations in our lives. He showed us how to fast and pray, both of which strengthens us interiorly and builds our relationship with Him.

He calls us now to join Him there, in the desert of our hearts, of our lives. He asks us to keep Him company in his sufferings and struggle, his loneliness and prayer to the Father. The whole Church goes into the desert to fast and pray these Lenten days in union with Jesus. We, the Bride, the Church, must share our Bridegroom’s sufferings.

“But look, I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.”

Hosea 2:16

Let us persevere these forty days of Lent in the desert with our Lord. Surely, He will speak to our hearts. Even–precisely!–in that desert place where we don’t want to hang around too long. Stay there! He wants to speak to our hearts there.

“He was among the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

Mk. 1:13

And don’t forget He sends His angels to minister to us, too.

Angel of God, my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule and guide.
Amen.

Let us pray for each other this Lent! You are always in our prayers.

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