First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent


The Holy Gospel according to Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


Believe it or not, a lot of pastors don’t major or minor in Religion in college before coming to seminary. I was one of those people and ran around with a lot of those people in seminary. 

I will never forget talking with someone who was an English major telling me how much they wish they could have engaged with Mark in a writing workshop before he wrote his gospel. 


Our gospel text this weekend is a perfect example with Jesus’s baptism, the temptation of Christ and the jailing of John (all in 6 verses). My colleagues main complaint was she felt readers need more detail. 

People need scenes, and my colleague would really have liked to give some feedback on his report of Christ’s temptation in the desert, which in Mark’s short gospel comes in the early verses of the first chapter, whereas Matthew and Luke each wait to share this story until chapter 4. Mark describes the entire incident in one verse, while the other two synoptic gospels take 11 to 13.

On the other hand, I have always been a fan of Mark’s brevity combined with his love for action words and the immediacy of everything in Mark. During Jesus’ baptism, Mark writes that the heavens are torn open. He deliberately references Isaiah 64:1, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” The word tear suggests a violent in-breaking, not a peaceful parting of clouds like curtains on a sunny day. With just one word, Mark accomplishes a lot with his listeners, showing that Christ fulfills the hopes of the Old Testament.

After the brief baptism scene, Mark states that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, while Luke says Jesus was “filled by” the Spirit and Matthew writes that the Spirit “led” him. While Mark may be short on scenes, the words he picks offer intrigue. 

  • Does being driven by the Spirit mean that Jesus does not enthusiastically embrace his time of testing? 
  • Would he have preferred to prepare for his public ministry in a different way? 
  • Does he resist going to the wilderness, necessitating a driving force?

And of course the part about the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness is preceded by Mark’s favorite word, immediately, a word he uses as much as the other three gospel writers combined. This marks the first appearance of immediately in Mark.

Mark’s next verse encapsulates the entire 40-day period of testing, which both Matthew and Luke spend several verses depicting, including dialogue with the devil. Mark uses the word Satan, while the other two say “the devil.” While I miss the scenes with the devil in Matthew and Luke, I personally like Mark’s use of Satan.


Look, my English majoring colleague was right, Mark doesn’t give us an extended script for these 40 days. In fact, he distills the entire time period into two compact sentences with Satan, wild beasts, and angels as the other actors. There are no details about the temptations as there are in Matthew & Luke’s gospels. The wilderness event doesn’t even factor in John’s story. Mark leaves the details to our imaginations. For him, the important movement is into ministry, and Mark keeps the plot moving right along; poor John the Baptizer goes straight from the Jordan to prison.

The thing I appreciate most about Mark’s account is its incredible pace that drags us right along for the ride without so much as an intermission to catch our breath. And isn’t that how our life goes: fragile, fleeting, and only truly viewed in the rearview mirror of faith?

The 40 days of Lent offer us the opportunity to pare back our typically overstuffed and chaotic daily lives by plunging into a faith-full landscape that requires us to travel light and walk in step with the wild ones, accompanied by the angels of divine mercy, grace, and love. In this wilderness landscape, we are invited to lay down our excess baggage and encounter Jesus in prayer, contemplation, and other faith practices. And yes, the forces of the world that would draw us away step handily into the role of Satan and tempt us back into the security of our familiar patterns and habits, the demons that alternately plague and seduce us.

It can be downright terrifying to face the wilderness without our masks of security and without our precious possessions or carefully cultivated social media personas. The only way, however, to draw deeply into the love of God is to let go of all of our illusions of security and control. We go from drenched and nourished in the waters of baptism to parched, dark wilderness nights of the soul. There are no shortcuts around the wilderness; it’s a journey traversed only by foot and sometimes on our hands and knees.

The good news is that thanks to Jesus, we do not have to languish in the wilderness. We are called back into the world, changed and ready to move on in ministry and mission. In the rearview mirror of life, our wilderness journey through Lent/life is but a minor part of the sweeping salvation narrative—but it is so necessary in forming and shaping us in the way of Christ.


I don’t know about all of you but I believe we rarely send the ones we love off into a literal wilderness intentionally. But we do send them out into situations we don’t always understand. 

  • We send our kids into schools where they face demons in the form of academic stress, peer pressure, or bullying. 
  • We send our spouses into workplaces that may sometimes feel like lions’ dens. 
  • We send our fellow church members out the door on weekends into an unpredictable world.

What words of blessing do we give to them as we send them on their way? What do we give them to carry into the hard or scary places, for when they start to doubt their own worth? Do they leave knowing that in them we are “well pleased”? Or do they just remember that we were mad they didn’t take out the trash again?

We are human, and even if we want to be the ever-supportive voice of compassion and encouragement to the ones we love, we will sometimes fail. As a result, sometimes our loved ones will leave the house thinking we are grade-A jerks. While we might not admit it, that will seem fair to us, because we will feel that way sometime too. The world will feel just a little bit harder for everyone involved that day.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. If we can take a minute, acknowledge that things aren’t working, and decide to restart, we can end up leaving each other for the day with feelings of love and appreciation.

I have learned that this world is hard enough for all of us. There are ways to be kinder to the people we love. That’s what God’s grace has given to us, and that’s what we can give to others. In Lent we prepare for a new life. It’s as good a time as any to start practicing how to live a little more kindly, too.