Prayer Service

First Sunday of Lent [2018]

First Sunday of Lent [2018]

Readings

Genesis 9:8-15

Psalm 25:4-9

1 Peter 3:18-20

Mark 1:12-15

We begin every Lenten season with an account of Jesus’ temptation from one of the synoptic gospels. So important is the temptation story for the early church that all three synoptic evangelists include the story in their gospels. Today’s account from Mark is the neatest and shortest of all. He doesn’t dwell on details, and refuses to speculate on what the exact nature of the temptations were all about. He is content just to let his audience know that in the desert “Jesus was put to the test by Satan.”

For Mark, the temptation serves as a proclamation of Jesus’ humanity, He is one like us. The extended infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke gave those evangelists the opportunity to demonstrate the humanity of Jesus (e.g., the genealogy of Matthew), but Mark simply gives his readers something all mature people can understand – the desire of Satan to take advantage of our humanness.

Mark’s brief temptation story takes place at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus is still damp with the waters of His baptism by John. Was John’s baptism not strong enough to free Jesus from the temptations that come to every man and woman? Perhaps Mark is telling his audience not to suffer any illusions about being sinless. If the Son of Man began His public ministry experiencing the same temptations that all men and women experience then we should not be frightened when the strongest of temptations come our way. Mark’s story was no doubt intended to give encouragement to the nascent church which was experiencing challenges and difficulties of all kinds. Our God is not so distant that He fails to understand the challenges that come to those who follow Him. We can be certain, although not so much explicitly stated, that this was not the only time that Jesus was tempted. From this first moment recounted by Mark until Jesus’ last moment on the cross he surely suffered the temptations that are part of the human condition, for Satan would never have given up so easily.

Why do we begin our Lenten journey every year with the story of Jesus’ temptation? I would like to think that the story is a source of encouragement for all those who are in touch with their own sinfulness. The season of Lent is the Church’s gift to us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. It is not meant to discourage us by coming face-to-face with our own sinfulness. Rather, we are given hope that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who Himself was tempted, will give us the strength to rise above our own temptations. Lent is the time to arm ourselves with the weapons of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, in order that we might be successful in our battles with temptation, just as Jesus was successful in his battle with Satan.

Temptations do not have to destroy us or overwhelm us, for they are capable of leading us to an even greater dependence on the God who can do all things. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis said the following about temptation: “When a person of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts, they realize clearly that their greatest need is God, without whom they can do no good. Many people try to escape temptations, only to fall more deeply. The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a careless and irresolute person is tempted in many ways.”

At the beginning of this Lenten season may our trust in a loving God, who can do all things, be strengthened. May our increased prayer, our fasting, and our almsgiving allow us to see ourselves as God sees us, wounded and sinful creatures in need of God’s forgiveness. May our repentance this Lent be a sign of God’s love, causing us to be fearless in the face of whatever temptations may come our way.

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