Today’s Gospel depicts a personal battleground for one’s very soul and spirit. Jesus went into the desert – a place where there is little life – in order to contemplate the life that he was to lead. It was supposed to be a place where there were no distractions of sight or sound, or smell, or taste. In the desert, stripped of creature comforts and the usual support systems one has, He would have only one companion God, His Father. Or so it seemed to the outsider.
Now the Gospel of Mark does not recount Jesus’ battle with Satan in detail as Matthew and Luke do, but simply says that Satan put Jesus to the test.
So here we have the setting and the action. The desert, Satan, and wild beasts on the one hand; the Holy Spirit and angels on the other: What’s happening to Jesus out there in the Judean desert? Well, simply put, I believe that what’s happening to Jesus is what’s happening to each of us in our own lives. What’s happening is that Jesus met head on what we spend so many more days and nights wrestling with. There are times in our lives when we go into our own desert – a time when we need to get away from it all and think about where we are going and what we are doing. Those times are usually accompanied by value decisions as well. We contemplate what we should be doing against the standards and values of our life. Most probably, the same desert scene that Jesus encountered confronts us. While it may not be as dramatic, the components of that desert scene are still there. In the solitude of our mind, haven’t we heard the insistent, seductive voice of Satan tempting us against our better judgment? And the wild beasts Jesus encountered? Does a day pass when the taunting howl of corrupt cultural values doesn’t haunt us? Does a day go by when we don’t hear of man’s inhumanity and brutality against one another?
You see folks, when we demythologize Satan, we understand that Satan really consists of the internal, devious forces of individuals, groups of people, and the structures they conceive that cause suffering to others. These forces alienate people from God and one another – forces diametrically opposed to God. Jesus’ purpose is to bring the Kingdom of God to God’s people. Satan’s forces have one singular job – to drive people away from the Kingdom of God. It’s real and it’s there. You know, we often think of Satan and of evil with capital letters. But it’s the small, seductive sounds of evil that we hear every day. You know, its things like: ”it really is all about me , after all , you only go around once” so we wind up making decisions that don’t include the feelings and needs of those around us OR “hey, this is mine, I earned it, I don’t have to share it” so we wind up giving only a token of what we should or could OR “I make the money in this family and that ought to be recognized” so we treat our spouse as a second class citizen OR “I have too much time to deal with someone else problem, let someone else do it” so the needs of the least are left to someone else.
Lent is that period every year when we are called to have our own “desert experience.” We are asked to make time to create a quiet place, a “venue” where we look back at the world and into our own lives. Or, should I say we have the opportunity to do that. Whether we do that or not is our choice. Whether lent is spiritually profitable is largely in our hands. Jesus brought the kingdom of God to us. But “Bringing” is only half the story. The other half is that the Kingdom of God needs to be Accepted by us. On Ash Wednesday, we heard the words, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” I suspect that the reason that most of us are not more deeply committed to the commands of Jesus is because It’s easier and certainly more creature comfortable to hold on to more tangible values like money and power and the cultural mores of our society. But turning away from sin has a very definite second component – it’s turning toward Jesus in acceptance and belief.
Turning toward Jesus is gained, first, by honestly recognizing our values. Do you ever remember in college or business going through “Values clarification” exercises. Those types of questions are still helpful today – you know questions like if my house was on fire and I could make one trip out, what would I carry? Who are my closest friends – and why? What do I value the most in my life?
The truth is that very often we own values that are the mindless internalization of cultural assumptions that are alien to “Living Jesus.” Cultural assumptions that very often have given into the seductive voice of Satan. Cultural values that have been constructed to build a barrier between encountering Jesus Christ in our lives. The key to growth in the spiritual life is cultivating the consciousness of Jesus, not society. It’s called “Living Jesus.” Because that is what we are called to do. Every aspect of our life, every value we hold, all that we do and say should be weighed against whether we are” Living Jesus.”
Repentance is done, by letting go of those values that conflict with or oppose the Good News of Jesus, however difficult that may be and replacing them with Jesus-like values. When we do that, we are “Living Jesus.”
“Living Jesus” brings a totally different mind-set and way of life. Not only does it call for a gentler and kinder perspective on people and lives but it also calls for an active Christianity. An active Christianity prods and pushes us to find ways to help others; it reminds us that we are called to bring others to Christ. It reminds us that, every day, we should measure ourselves by the good we did for others that day. Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God has drawn near.” So it is with us. Our life in time needs to be focused not on today but on eternity; as a result, our time should be filled by “Living Jesus.” May the desert experience that began last Wednesday be eternally profitable to us all. May each of us come to know the completeness of “Living Jesus.”