We begin this new season of Lent by journeying with Jesus into the wilderness of temptation. The gospel today begins with Jesus being driven immediately into the wilderness of Israel – perhaps into the Judean desert, or into the southern desert of the Negev. Immediately refers to happening straight after the baptism of Jesus. It is as if Jesus had to first hear the words of the Father declaring that “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” – words that we will hear again next Sunday at the Transfiguration – and having the reassurance of the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to have the strength to face the dry, arid and barren desert. A place of lifeless hopelessness. This is the place where Jesus goes to confront himself and ‘the Satan’ – the adversary, who stands opposed to the way of God. He spends forty days in the wilderness – a symbolic number in Hebrew meaning a long period. In the gospel of Mark there are none of the details that we find in Matthew or Luke about the specific temptations that Jesus faced. Mark only provides the raw details. He does tell us that ‘the wild beasts were with him’ – and at that time there were bears, leopards, wild boar, cheetahs as well as many ibexes in the deserts of Israel. So we probably have read this as somewhat scary and frightening – yet perhaps this is meant as a reminder that now that Jesus the Messiah has come, the prophecies of, for example, the Prophet Isaiah are now coming true and “lion and lamb will lie down together.” The wild beasts may then simply be there as friends and companions of Jesus, alongside of the angels who ministered to him.
Jesus returns to his ministry and begins to preach repentance for the kingdom of God has drawn near. Mark doesn’t tell us the details of what that good news was about, but if we read the letters of Saint Paul we are told that the good news means the announcement of ‘truth, hope, peace, promise, immortality and salvation.’ Jesus calls us to repent – to change our minds (metanoia in Greek) and return to the way of the Father (t’shuvah in Hebrew). But this way of repentance cannot only happen when we have been caught out and the consequences of our sin is now known (which seems to happen in the lives of public figures who are sorry because they were caught, or are sorry because their sin is now known) – no, true repentance happens when we are sorry for the sin itself and all the ways that it leads us away from God.