The Gospel readings selected for Lent this year are primarily from Mark, considered the essential and earliest written account of the events in the life of Jesus, the pattern for the synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is also the closest to an eyewitness account, since Mark was the recorder and interpreter for Peter’s preaching and a later companion on Paul’s journeys. It is known for its brevity, sense of urgency, and absolute conviction that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus, where Jesus is blessed by the words of God the Father and the hovering symbol of the Holy Spirit, which takes him only eleven verses. The next four verses form the Gospel for this Sunday and set the stage for this year’s Lenten readings.
In short order, once Jesus recognizes by whom he has been blessed, it is the same Spirit that drives him to the desert to be tested for forty days where he is among the wild beasts, tempted by Satan, and ministered to by angels. Mark does not go into details of Jesus’s temptations; rather he assumes Jesus’ victory over them by saying that, as soon as Jesus heard of John’s arrest, he knew the time had come to go to Galilee and announce the Gospel or “Good News” of God.
A few details remind us of the cosmic importance of Jesus’ time in the desert, that it was a turning point in salvation history. The period of forty days has Biblical significance as a time of trial, and recalls the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. The presence of wild beasts may indicate more than danger; they may refer to Biblical prophecies that when the Messiah arrives there will be a restoration of peace between humans and animals. The ministering angels indicate the participation of heavenly powers in a struggle that is about to commence. Just as there had been warfare in heaven with the good angels triumphing, they now minister to God-made-man as he prepares to enter into battle with evil on earth.
The two preparatory Scriptural readings from the Old and the New Testaments for this Sunday’s Gospel help frame Mark’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The reading from Genesis recounts God’s mercy from ages past, whereby Noah’s family was spared the destruction of creation by flood in order to begin a new community on earth. The rainbow in the sky was a sign of God’s covenant never again to destroy humanity by flood. The New Testament reading from St. Peter reminds us that this same loving God has once again rescued humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that this salvation is now available to all through accepting the waters of baptism. To show that God’s loving compassion is from and for all time, he recounts how the resurrected Christ first went to the underworld to rescue all the souls of those who had died before Christ’s coming to earth and before he returned to heaven. Thus, all three readings for this Sunday’s liturgy speak of God’s loving care for humanity from the earliest beginnings of human history to the present day.
As we prayerfully journey through the season, listen to the Sunday Scripture readings and reflect on ways they continue this theme. Have a fruitful Lent!