Monday, February 23, 2015

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.  On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.   And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit drove him 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 [the Baptist] 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.”
The Gospel of the Lord.

      You may have noticed you got a little bit extra of the Gospel of Mark this morning than what is called for in the reading.  Don’t worry: No extra charge.  But I think it is important to understand the setting.
      Jesus has just been Baptized.  The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and God’s voice from the heavens proclaims “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 
      How do you think Jesus felt?   Well, can you imagine if you heard God from heaven proclaim, “you are my beloved child and I am so proud of you!”???   You would feel great!  And no doubt Jesus did too.  It must have been wonderful.  Jesus must have felt ready to burst.
      But Jesus was not allowed to stay there, not allowed to luxuriate in that sense of being special, being cherished, being loved.   “At once” the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.  Other translations say “Immediately” the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.  I think “wilderness” catches the sense better.  This is not just a dry and barren place, but it is hostile, full of dangerous wild beasts, it is untamed and uncivilized, it is not only desert, it is wilderness.
The Spirit drives, or literally, throws Jesus into the desert, to be tested, to be tempted by Satan.  This is not a polite invitation, but a strong push.  Jesus is driven, compelled by the Spirit.
In the desert Jesus is tempted by Satan.  The word translated as “tempted” literally means to be put to the test.  Now testing, while usually not comfortable, is not necessarily a bad thing.  Testing allows us to see if we have what it takes to make the grade.  An ambitious athlete wants a challenge that will test his or her strength, endurance, agility, talent.  It is only in a challenge that they can prove themselves and excel. 
          Well, in our Gospel It is like Jesus is being pushed into the track of a race.  Jesus is the spiritual athlete par excellence, and Jesus proves his ability to hold firm, to not give in to Satan. 
          Mark cryptically tells us “He was among wild beasts”.  Not just wild animals, but  more importantly the kind of wild beasts all of us face: all those powers outside us that work for destruction, such as war, crime, discrimination, poverty, disease; and all those untamed beasts inside us as well: rage, fear, lust, greed, envy, despair.  Jesus is struggling with all these wild beasts.
          But St Mark also mentions, “and the angels ministered to him. “ Jesus is also supported by God’s grace.
          My brothers and sisters, the church gives us this Gospel at the beginning of Lent to be a sort of plan or pattern, (or for those who like 25 cent words,) a “paradigm” for us in this holy season.  We have been Baptized, like Jesus.  We too are therefore God’s beloved children. 
God sends God’s Spirit on us, and God is well pleased in you, and me, and every Baptized person.  That is wonderful!  But we cannot just stay there, basking in God’s pride in us.  We have work to do.  We have a mission. 
          And so just as Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to be tested, so we enter into this holy season of the 40 days of Lent, and we are tested.  We are tested and tried in order to grow: in compassion, in forgiveness, in generosity, in chastity, in honesty, in courage, and of course, in love.  We do works of penance, not in order to be miserable, not to lose weight, but to become stronger as Christians, as disciples of Christ.
For example, this Lent our generosity, and probably our patience, is tested by the many special appeals with which we are presented.  Catholic causes love to make their appeals in Lent.  And as always, the needs are great.  Most obviously, we are in the midst of our capital campaign to renovate the front of our church, the Faithful To Our Mission campaign.  Last weekend we had a second collection to support Catholic higher education and campus ministry in the diocese.  On Ash Wednesday we had a second collection for World and Home Missions.  Two weeks from today we take up our monthly collection for Persons in Need.  The following week, on March 15 we collect for Catholic Relief Services, and shortly after that we have our in-pew solicitation for our Capital Campaign.   Then the last weekend in March we take up our Grand Tour Collection to support our St. Austin Catholic School.  Later that week, on Good Friday, we have a collection for the Holy Land.  And then its Easter!   
That is a test.  The Spirit pushes us.  But taken in the right way it can make us more generous, more compassionate, more genuine Christians.
          We enter into this Lenten wilderness to be tested, so that we might be pulled, stretched, challenged, and grow. 
          ¿And what happened to Jesus after his 40 days of training?   Well, John the Baptist was arrested.  John was thrown into prison, and it was pretty clear he was not going to be coming out alive.  Jesus knew this was the fate of the prophets, and that if He started down that road, He too would eventually be killed.  It did not take divine foresight to figure that one out.  So when John was arrested, Jesus could have shirked his mission, kept a low profile and lead a simple and quiet life as a Judean peasant.  But He didn’t.  St. Mark states: “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."
          Jesus passed the test.  He proved his mettle.  He was up to the task.  He not only endured, but thrived.  With God’s grace, we will do the same.   

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