Sermon; Lent 1B ; Mark 1:9-15
There are a few days on the Church calendar when we get the same reading every year: Christmas and the first Sunday after Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week and the second Sunday of Easter. And there are several more days in the year when we get a different version of the same story – today being one of those days.
On this first Sunday in Lent we always hear the story of Jesus out in the wilderness for forty days being tempted. Matthew and Luke have Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit and both go into great detail about the temptations he faced along with the back-and-forth between him and the devil. We are all probably familiar with that scene: Change stone to bread, jump off the top of the temple, worship me. But Mark doesn't do that.
Instead, Mark has Jesus “driven” into the wilderness by the Spirit. And Mark says, “he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild bests; and the angels waited on him.” That's it. Tempted, yes; but there's no dialogue between Jesus and Satan. In fact, Mark doesn't even say Jesus fasted during that time. I'm now wondering if the angels who waited on him were part of a heavenly DoorDash crew delivering holy manna to sustain him during those 40 days.
Anyway . . .
All that said, Mark's version of the forty-day wilderness experience is my favorite version by far. Matthew and Luke are good if you want to flex your theological muscles about those temptations. For instance, both begin with the devil tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread after a long fast, but then the next two are in a different sequence. Why is that?
In Matthew, once the devil has been defeated he leaves. But Luke gives us an ominous foreshadowing when he says the devil left Jesus “until an opportune time.” Insert your image of Snidely Whiplash lurking around a corner and twirling his mustache here.
But Mark has none of that. Mark is simple. Jesus is in the wilderness with wild beasts, being waited on by angels, and being tempted by Satan. It's almost as if he doesn't want the temptation story to delay us from hearing the good news. Remember, this is the gospel that begins, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
So why is Mark my favorite version of the temptation story? Because in Mark's version, Satan. Never. Leaves. In Matthew, he leaves. In Luke, he departs until a later time. But in Mark, he Never Leaves.
Christianity tells us that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Our creeds state that Jesus was the human incarnation of God the Son, second person of the Trinity. God from God. Begotten, not made. Matthew and Luke tell us Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. John tells us that the Word became flesh and lived among us. This doctrine of fully human/fully divine is hard for us to wrap our heads around.
Fully human? Sure. Fully divine? No problem. But both? At the same time? It's hard to grasp. And we've been arguing about it ever since the Church started trying to articulate who and what Jesus is.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit – God. Baby in a manger – human. Revelations at baptism and transfiguration – God. Traveling from town to town telling stories – human. Crucified – human. Resurrected – God. But putting the human alongside God at the same time is difficult.
And maybe after 2000 years we have a tendency to put more emphasis on Jesus' divine nature than on his human one. I remember when I preached a sermon about Jesus making a mistake. An angry woman came up to me after service and said, “God doesn't make mistakes.” No . . . but humans do.
We might be tempted (pun intended) to look at Matthew or Luke and declare that Jesus never faced another temptation after he resisted the devil those three times. After all, the gospels don't relay any other temptation stories. Eucharistic Prayer D, on the top of page 374, might also reinforce this view when it says in part, “he lived as one of us, yet without sin.” It's easy to not sin when you are never tempted.
But in Mark's gospel, Satan never leaves. It's my contention that, as fully human, Jesus faced temptation every day of his life up until he died on the cross. Maybe he was tempted to heal people as a PR stunt. Maybe he was tempted to not heal someone because he didn't like them. Maybe he was tempted to take advantage of a situation. In Mark, Jesus wasn't thrice tempted only to put Satan in his place. In Mark, the temptations last, at a minimum, all forty days, and maybe longer. I think the writer of Hebrews picks up on this when, discussing the high priesthood of Jesus, they write at 4:15, “we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
This is why Mark's version is my favorite version. We are tempted almost every day of our lives in many ways – some obvious and open, and some secret and private. Everything from abusive behavior to theft. From addiction to wrath. We are tempted to scream in rage. We are tempted to keep silent. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we sin.
The person of Jesus is the intersection of an X. He is the point at which God reaches down to humanity, and he is the point at which humanity reaches up to God. In the person of Jesus, God learns what it means to be human. And in the person of Jesus, we humans have the perfect example of how to be in relationship with God. But this human isn't some perfect porcelain person we can't touch. This human was every bit as human as you and me. He loved. He laughed. He cried. He worked. He got angry. He was compassionate. And he was tempted – every day and in every way.
This is why Mark has my favorite temptation story – because it's also MY temptation story. And I pray that this human will one day be like that human.