Mark 1:12-15 (NRSVCE)
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Today’s Gospel reading is interesting for two major reasons. Firstly, there is the curiousness of the selection of the verses themselves. Why do we have seemingly unrelated stories next to each other, and why use them both for the daily reading? What do John’s arrest, Jesus’s preaching of the Kingdom, and Jesus’s temptation in the desert have to do with each other? Surely it would make more sense to only select one of those for a daily reading, so we can focus our attention on, say, the temptation.
To understand this, let’s look at the second interesting thing about this reading. Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert. But who brought him to the desert in the first place? “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Recall that this “immediately” is right after the baptism of Jesus. We have just heard the voice of the Father booming from the heavens, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:11) Mark doesn’t give us much backstory for Jesus. He chooses to instead jump right into his public ministry. But even without that backstory, we as the readers assume that this baptism event marks the beginning of something important. The Father has announced the Son, and the Spirit has descended on him! But then the Son is driven into the wilderness to be tested. Why?
Think of some of the other moments of testing in Scripture for a moment. Abraham was chosen by God, having been promised to be the father of many nations. But before this promise is fulfilled, Abraham is tested when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-19) Paul, having studied for years under Gamaliel the Elder (Acts 22:3), is thrust into the wilds of Arabia for three years before he joined the apostles and began his ministry (Galations 1:17-24). God gives purpose to all His chosen people, but before that purpose can be fulfilled, their faith is tested and they undergo a period of purification. For Abraham, that meant proving that he loved God above all else, trusting in Him unconditionally. For Paul, that meant leaving behind the wisdom of men so that he could be filled with the divine wisdom.
For Jesus, that meant being tempted by Satan himself. Think back to the Garden in the opening pages of Genesis. Adam was also tempted by Satan, but he was not able to resist. He was given a purpose by God, he underwent a trial, and he failed. Jesus is the New Adam, who when he faces that same test is able to overcome it. Mark includes this story immediately before the public ministry of Jesus begins precisely to make the point that where others have failed, Jesus succeeds. He is making the point that Jesus is indeed the “beloved Son”, and this gives credence to Jesus’s proclamation that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
We have all been given a purpose by God. To preach the good news, to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and to live the Gospel every day. We all face trials and tribulations in our lives. Lent is a special time when we as the Church welcome those trials, for we know that with the help of Christ we will overcome.