• Overview of Mark's Gospel
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
…in the global North. Lent comes from old English for spring with its gradually longer days. The slow music tempo, Lento, comes from the same root. During Lent we slow down, breathe, often take on spiritual and direct service practices and projects, sometimes "give up" a pleasure like chocolate, desserts, or social media. Lenten liturgical colors of purple and lavender reflect that seriousness.
There's an individualistic aspect to Lent because if the micro-level doesn't function well, how can the whole be healthy? However, Lent especially emphasizes our position within the gathered people of God, as persons baptized into the body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Lent is a season of preparation for baptism or renewal of baptism at the Easter Vigil.
Lent was one of the church's first set-apart seasons that probably began not long after Jesus' death and resurrection, possibly as only a several days long observance. Currently Lent goes from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week for churches that celebrate the liturgy of the Three Days or Triduum (Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Resurrection Sunday); for those that don't, Lent usually is from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday evening.
The First Sunday in Lent
Every year the gospel reading on the first Sunday in Lent is Jesus' post-baptismal wilderness testing. Sunday "in but not of Lent" because every Sunday is a festival of resurrection, although we buried the alleluias last Sunday on Transfiguration. After his baptism, the Holy Spirit takes Jesus from wilderness alongside the Jordan river into deeper, denser wilds. Matthew and Luke detail the challenges to Jesus' identity before he returns to begin his public ministry, but Mark describes all forty days with one verse of twenty-one words in Greek.
• Matthew 4:1-11
• Mark 1:9-15
• Luke 4:1-13
Baptism, Identity, Resistance
The world has seen an endless series of political and economic empires that oppress persons, impoverish society, bankrupt creation. The Roman Empire is the context for Jesus and his disciples.
For this year of Mark, the lectionary peeps included Jesus' baptism before telling about his approximately one month in the wilderness—because the wilderness testings in Mark are only two verses long, one that announces the Spirit catapulted him there, a second that says what happened there? Possibly, but (even realizing Jesus' baptism was not trinitarian as ours is) Lent also emphasizes and somewhat tests our baptismal identities.
Martin Luther says in baptism we renounce the unholy trinity of sin, death, and devil to live bathed in grace for the sake of the world. As we follow Jesus, our baptism calls and enables us to resist empire in a multitude of ways.
Today's Gospel Account
Mark's story of Jesus is renowned for the word immediately, its brevity, and its non-stop action. On Epiphany 4 we experienced Jesus' first act of public ministry when he expelled an unclean spirit from a synagogue visitor to set the style for what comes next. Jesus in Mark confronts, engages, and disarms religious, political, social, cultural, economic (make your own list) powers and forces.
Mark's Jesus is right in line with Colossians 2:15, He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
• Some Baptismal theology in Colossians 2:8-15.
• How does a person resist empire, corruption, deceit, poverty, and death? Can an entity such as a church, a school, or a manufacturer resist?
• How do you interpret Jesus in Mark 9:29 telling us "this kind [of demon] can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting." Political prisoners refusing to eat? Communities of faith fasting for a cause?
• What can we make of the death on Friday of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny? Will his life of resistance and hope make a difference for Russia and for the world?
More for Lent 1
The first reading for today, Genesis 9:8-17, describes God's covenant with Noah, his sons, their descendants, and with "every living thing." It says every living thing three times! Although we refer to this as a covenant, a covenant has two parties, but God alone makes this agreement, which makes it a Promise by God rather than a covenant between God and humanity. Surprisingly, Genesis 9:15-16 tells us the rainbow is a sign so God will remember. As twenty-first century people we often use rainbows with their full range of colors as icons or symbols of inclusiveness.
Mark 1:13 says Jesus was "with the wild beasts." Richard Bauckham, in The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation points out that elsewhere in Mark's gospel "being with" is language of love and it conveys close friendship.
Bauckham suggests portraying Jesus where the wild things are evokes the Peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah 11:1-9. This vision of messianic peace or shalom encompasses all creation, with humans and animals living together in harmony. It belongs to the many ways God's reign comes near in Jesus—and in us, Jesus' present-day disciples.
and thy lovingkindnesses
for they have been ever of old.