1st Sunday of Lent B

There is not a lot to work with in this Gospel and I preached about the second paragraph just a few weeks ago.  All we have is that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert among the wild beasts where he fasted forty days and nights, was tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels.

Jesus has just been baptized in the Jordan by John and heard the awesome affirmation of his Father, “This is my beloved Son.”  But before he begins his ministry, he must have his desert experience.  The desert was not a favored place in Israel which cherished civilization.  It loved in cities and towns, but the desert was a place of foreboding.   The scapegoat which carries all the sins of Israel is released into the desert on Yom Kippur?  It is the home of demons, sin and temptation.  It is dangerous and lonely.  Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke there is no dramatic dialogue between Satan and Jesus.  Mark tells a spare story about a spare time and place.

If Christ were to share all that we experience then he must go to the desert.  We all have the time when we must resist temptation, overcome demons and do it by ourselves.  We must confront and become the person we are intended to be.  At some point, the Spirit drives all of us into the desert.

Even our theme this year is well aware of this darkness and aloneness that abides in our lives.  Perhaps because it is such a gentle tune when we sing, “Make me a Channel of Your Peace,” that we forget their challenge and awareness of the pain in the world.  We are praying the words of one who was familiar with the desert.  For it clearly states there is hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.  The author found these things in the life of Jesus and what he faced.  He likely found these elements in St. Francis and his challenges and darkness both before and after his conversion.  Did you know that before the end of his life, Francis no longer ran the Franciscans?  His rule and his ideas were considered too simple for the congregation that had grown so large due to his simplicity.  If even our most joyous saint knew the despair of the desert, then must we all.

And an extraordinary prescription is given to cure us of these ills. Love to combat hatred, pardon to answer injury.  Now when somebody hates me, it takes all my best to simply not hate them in return.  If I manage that, I feel pretty good.  But loving that person?  It seems beyond the possible.  And I think a successful response to injury is not seeking revenge, but we are told to forgive, a pretty tall order.  It is not enough that we walk away from evil, to resist despair or wait out the darkness.  We are not passive viewers of the world.  We are called to be transformers of the world who bring love, pardon, faith hope and light.  We do not leave the desert as it is; we are supposed to make it bloom.

And how do we become the bringers of peace, love, pardon, hope and light?  We cannot do that ourselves.  We must bring Jesus Christ.  Only Christ can reach into the depth of darkness and despair.  Only he can move us to reconciliation with those who hate us.  Only Jesus Christ can confront evil and claim victory.  It is not enough to bring our best.  We must bring our God.   If we do the work of being channels of peace, then that channel must carry Christ who went into the desert and emerged as the one to lead us all to light.

When Jesus went into the desert he had nothing with him except the Spirit that drove him there and angels who ministered to him.  Well, the same Spirit he possessed lies within us and is strengthened by this word, at this table and among each other.  Let us be the angels that minister to those in the desert now.  Let us turn despair to hope, darkness to light and hatred to love.  Let us wander into the desert and feed our brothers and sisters.  Let us be channels of the peace that never fails.

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