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1st Sunday of Lent
 “Laudato Si’ Journey – Sunday Gospel”


Sunday February 18th
Mk 1, 12-15

We have arrived at the first Sunday of Lent— the pathway that prepares us for the most important time of the liturgical year: the Easter triduum. The best way to begin this journey, as suggested by the liturgy, is to immerse ourselves in the silence of God’s creation, in the desert that helps us measure up with ourselves and listen to the beating of our hearts.

This scene, as described in Mark’s Gospel, takes place after the baptism in the river Jordan and  is described at a very rapid pace. It seems like a short text, but the life of each of us lies within it. It is the first test that Jesus experiences having accepted and begun His mission, queuing up with the sinners. Ultimately, it is the same test to which we are all called from the moment we choose to follow him.

“At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert”,  the word εὐθὺς appears throughout the entire first chapter of Mark, highlighting the fast pace of events in Jesus’ life. As soon as he received the Spirit, πνεῦμα, the same pneuma pushes him into the desert, expels him (αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει), chases him away from where he to where he wouldn’t even think of going; where he doesn’t want to go. And in this desert there are two spirits, which are always present in our deserts and in our populous cities: the holy spirit, and the spirit of lies. In the desert there are wild beasts, which later become domesticated, and then there is man.

The desert is quite different from the garden. Man, in God’s Creation, had been placed in a very pleasant place and had to “cultivate and guard” that Creation. Now, the Chosen Man is thrown out into the wilderness. By accepting his mission, Jesus makes the desert flourish so that even dangerous beasts become friends. In this desert “he remained…for forty days, tempted by Satan.” The forty days that recall forty years in the desert; the forty days of Moses on Sinai; the forty days of Elijah’s journey; forty as an entire lifetime. In choosing the right Spirit, our whole life becomes a struggle. For forty days, indeed for his whole life, Jesus is tempted, πειραζόμενος, which has the same root as πειραματιστώ (to experiment) and from which words such as “perished”, “peril” or “perish” derive, are all expressions of experience.

Unlike the other Synoptics, Mark does not dwell on the type of temptation; he merely says that it lasts forty days in the desert. He also does not say that the temptations end, nor how Satan was forced to flee having tried every form of temptation. He hints at it, but ultimately, the whole of Mark’s Gospel, right up to the cross, is a continuous narration of temptation and of Jesus’ strength in knowing how to respond to it. However, he tells us something very beautiful, which takes us back to the origins of Creation itself: “He was among wild beasts”, θηρίων, among wild animals and just like Adam, was called to “dominate” – or even better, to “name” – all beings, thus giving each a name. However, we human beings, over time, have misunderstood this command and we have done a lot of damage. Jesus lives in the desert precisely with this primordial spirit and He reminds us that if we live in harmony with God, choosing not to follow the spirit of lies, we will also be in harmony with Creation.

“After John had been arrested”, literally “delivered” exactly as Jesus himself will later be handed over and betrayed at the end of the story. This, paradoxically, is the ‘kairos’ to begin His mission: Christ begins at the same time as he learns that his prophet is in prison. When one is handed over and betrayed, then that is the right moment for God to work: man wants to hand Him over and He hands Himself over… man wants to sell Him, and He makes Himself a gift.

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What happens when you hear terrible news? “Jesus came to Galilee” as the mission begins. The original text very subtly moves from the first verses in which an undefined “Jesus” is spoken of, to this passage after baptism and temptation, which refers to “the Jesus”, precisely the one the Gospel speaks of. In fact, his action involves “proclaiming the gospel of God:”, bringing the beauty of himself into an arid and thirsty world. The purpose of the Word, of the logos, has to be announced. ‘The Jesus’ we have long awaited brings this Word.

This word essentially tells us two things. The first: “The time is fulfilled”, literally in Greek it is καιρὸς, Kairos, opportune moment, the good opportunity. The second: “the kingdom of God is near”, better yet to say that the kingdom is here, there is no need to go elsewhere. Often our life, in these two dimensions, time and space, offers us many excuses, it is never the right time or place, something ideal is always missing. In the past it was different… I’m too small… In a big city there are more opportunities… And yet this word tells us something else.

If it’s the right time and place, here’s the call: μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, that is, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. We need to convert, to repent, to recognize that nothing is right without God. The tense used is the imperative, as if to tell us to “continue to convert”, it is an action to be done here and now, in this place and in this time, without looking for who knows what in life. Believing in the Gospel immediately allows us to see things differently, so as not to “change the world” which is all wrong, but to “change our world”, change our planet and change the way we look around us.

Let us pray to the Lord today, on this first Sunday of Lent, so that like St. Francis of Assisi, in the wonderful paraphrase of the Our Father, we can say: “And lead us not into temptation: hidden or manifest, sudden or insistent. But deliver us from evil: past, present and future” (FF 274).

We warmly wish you a peaceful Sunday as we move towards the Lord’s Easter, accompanied by His Word!

Laudato si’!