FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT – FEBRUARY 26, 2012 – ST. JOHN’S
On the first Sunday in Lent, the Gospel is always the story of the temptations–the testing–of Jesus. We are probably all most familiar with the very similar accounts that are found in the Gospels of St. Matthew and of St. Luke–three distinct tests that recall the testing of Israel in the desert, tests that Israel failed but that the one who embodied the new Israel passed in faithfulness. By comparison, the verses we have heard this morning from St. Mark’s Gospel may strike us as almost rude in their brevity. Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert where he is tested by Satan. No details are given; it is not even said whether he won or failed during the testing.
And then with equally direct and brief words, St. Mark moves on to a summary of the message that this same Jesus brought as he proclaimed the good news of God: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
The text is striking in its terseness. Its brevity conveys a sense of its urgency and its claim. It is meant to stop us short, to look at things differently. The time is fulfilled–a biblical reader would understand this to mean that the time of God’s action had come–God is about to accomplish his reign. That is the good news–the prophecies are about to be fulfilled. And what is the appropriate response: Repent! Change your minds and hearts. Stop what you’re doing. Turn around. Take stock, and decide. And believe what God is doing in me, Jesus says.
Lent is supposed to be a time for such stopping short, for stock-taking, for deciding whether the road we’ve been walking is the one we ought to be on. It’s meant in its own way to repeat the startling and challenging character of Jesus’ announcement.
The challenge echoes the words of St. Paul we heard on Ash Wednesday: “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” And the words of the antiphon before the Gospel on the same day: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” And the words of Moses on that day: “I set before you today life and death, blessing and curse: Choose life.”
Simple enough–but sometimes we shouldn’t complicate things. Choose life. If you hear him today, don’t turn a deaf ear and a hard heart to him. Now is a moment when the good news could break in on you, if you will only let it. Turn around if it’s necessary. Have the courage to believe in the good news. Have the courage to let it guide your life.