Lent, Week 1

When he calls on Me, I will answer him; I will deliver him and give him glory, I will grant him length of days. (Psalm 91:15-16).

Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant. (Psalm 25:10).

““At once (εὐθὺς, euthus) the Spirit drove (ἐκβάλλει, ekballei) him out into the desert (εἰς τὴν ἔρημον, eis ten eremon), and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted (πειραζόμενος, peirazomenos) by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:12-15)””

εὐθὺς (euthus, “at once”) is one of those challenging words that describe an essential element of Gospel discipleship. A disciple acts immediately or “at once.” During the Christmas Season, Mary and the shepherds taught this same lesson as each “went in haste.” The ‘twist’ this Sunday is that εὐθὺς describes no disciple. Jesus is the One Who “at once” is driven “out into the desert” following His Baptism in the Jordan River by His cousin, John. The Marcan account suggests that there is ‘something’ about Baptism that is ordered to an immediate immersion into the desert. As usual, this Evangelist minces no words. Going to the desert is not a casual, leisurely stroll to the park. Jesus’ movement into the desert is an energy-filled propulsion bordering on a violent hurling forward from water to aridity effected by “the Spirit.”

More than merely a place, the ἔρημος (eremos, desert) in the Gospel according to Saint Mark is an experience. Something happens in the ἔρημος that is essential for life. As an experience, the ἔρημος offers deliverance from danger to safety (ex – pereculum). Yet it is hard to fathom how the hostility of a ἔρημος can offer safety. After all, life in the ἔρημος is an intense struggle every second of life. But this is precisely what Israel discovered in the ἔρημος as she journeyed from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land. The struggle to live in the ἔρημος along with the vicissitudes of fidelity and infidelity to the Covenant way of living ultimately tested (πειραζόμενος, peirazomenos) Israel to receive her identity as the Chosen People. The ἔρημος becomes for Israel the way she learns and knows who she is: a Chosen People.

For Jesus, His Baptism in the River Jordan was, among a number of facets, a theophany – a divine showing, a moment of revelation. He is revealed as “My Beloved Son.” Once that pronouncement thunders in His life, Jesus is literally thrown into the desert experience. He permits Himself, He avails Himself of the Spirit’s work to lead Him deeply in the pre-Public Ministry work of an ongoing intensifying of His identity as Son, radically in communion with His Father.

It is therefore no coincidence that in-and-around these early days of Lent the Church celebrates the Rite of Election and the Call to Continual Conversion. This joyful Season is the time of intense, proximate preparation for Baptism-Confirmation-Holy Eucharist wherein the soon-to-be-designated Elect receive the Gift of Divine Adoption – a whole new identity, a whole new creation. It is in this context of Baptism that those who are already configured to Jesus Christ in the waters of rebirth are thrown by the same Spirit into the ἔρημος to have that configuration, that identity intensified. That is the reason we respond with attentiveness to the works of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Works, not in the sense of ‘earning points;’ not in the sense of a Pelagian spiritual Olympics attempting to prove to God what “I” can do and how good I am. Rather, like Jesus we permit ourselves to be available to the Spirit who drives us into the testing, the experience, the ἔρημος to come to grips with what it means to be a “child of God” who is being formed for immersion into the Water of Life or the renewal of that Life this Easter.

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