First Sunday of Lent, Year B
As we always find with Mark’s gospel, today’s reading is chockers with allusions. When we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, I looked at the comparison between that Gospel and the story of Noah; and our gospel today happens immediately after that one, and so the first and second readings make that comparison. Likewise, our gospel has obvious comparisons with Exodus. Jesus recapitulates Israel’s time in the desert; however, instead of falling into sin, especially that of idolatry, Jesus successfully models for us that fight against temptation. However, I would like to look at another comparison that Mark is making in this gospel: that of Jesus to Adam.
One of the characteristics of paradise in the Bible is the harmony between the spiritual and the material, and even more importantly between God and creation. Also, one of the great consequences of sin entering the world is the loss of this, the creation of disharmony. Humanity falls out of sync with the world because it refuses to listen to the Word of God. Whereas in paradise, humanity was so in tune with God that God entrusted the naming and care of each creature to humanity, after the fall not only does death and violence enter creation, but the spiritual and the material seem to be in conflict, even within humanity itself.
This consequence of the mystery of the Fall – humanity at war with itself, a disconnect between the spiritual and the material – this consequence I think is pretty obvious in the contradictions our society tells itself. We are told to think about our children and our grandchildren’s future to encourage care for the environment, while at the same time we are told it is ok to kill our children. We are told to make evidence-based decisions and to believe in science, while at the same to ignore the scientific fact that life begins at conception as well as to forget basic biology and anatomy. We are told that our young people are suffering an increase in mental health problems and that suicide rates are rising, while at the same time we are told if you satisfy certain conditions, you can feel free to kill yourself. The body is held up simultaneously as everything and nothing at all.
Some of you might know the beginning of WB Yeats poem, The Second Coming, which describes all this well: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre; The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. There is a sense of rational spirit at war with the irrational flesh; or vice versa, irrational will fighting the self-evident in nature. A sense that the goal-posts not only keep shifting, but seem to be spinning around us at an increasing and dizzying speed, especially in an era of instantaneous opinion.
All of this speaks to the fact that we are no longer living in the garden. We are in the desert. This is not home. And part of Lent is to remember this. The discomfort of fasting helps us with this. In one sense, we should not be comfortable with so much injustice and suffering in the world. The material world should be the language of the spiritual, and should speak truthfully.
However, this is not the whole picture. Jesus is in this desert, but the animals are with him and so are the angels. Mark is definitely comparing Jesus to Adam. Jesus is fulfilling Adam’s priestly vocation, at peace with creation, both the sub-human and the angelic. With him, harmony is restored and this peace can spread out through the cosmos, like the water flowing from the side of the Temple. Indeed, this is one definition of the Church, the life of Christ perpetuated and growing in space and time.
A constant theme in the Bible is that God uses a remnant. God does not destroy everything and build a new garden. Instead God redeems what is fallen. God works with the desert inside each one of us, and therefore there is always hope. The fourth preface of Sundays, which unfortunately we don’t use in Lent, speaks of this pattern in God’s actions: For we know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of salvation, through Christ our Lord.
And so we see Jesus not in a garden (at least not yet), but in the desert. He comes to us where we are, not to destroy us and start again, but to save us and raise us up. And so Lent is the special time to remember that we are both fallen and saved. It is a time to let God show us our sins, remembering that God reveals such things not to condemn us but to help us out. He reveals our wrong decisions that we might repent and believe in the Good News.
Let us take Lent seriously then. Let us open our eyes to the state of the world. Let us realise that this cannot be home. Let us double-down on truth and solidarity with our brothers and sisters; but always in the hope that we are not alone. That God has not only come to get us, but has triumphed over anything that seeks to tempt us and hold us down. That God can really turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and so renew the face of the earth.