~With the Wild Beasts~
“The Spirit immediately drove him [Jesus] 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.” ~Mark 1:12-13
Dear Members and Friends,
As a failed English teacher—a person who loves good fiction, and poetry, and words well-used—I sometimes wish the Bible had a little more in the way of “concrete imagery.” You know, the rich descriptive language that you were taught to use back in freshman comp? The Scriptures typically don’t have much use for “word pictures.” Because the physical task of writing was so slow and laborious in ancient times, much early literature gets straight to the point. The Gospels, especially, tend to tell even the most poignant tales in a simple, matter-of-fact way. “And Jesus wept.” “And there they crucified him between two thieves.” “He is not here. He is risen.” When you do happen across descriptive language in the biblical texts (which is mainly in the Samuels, and the Hebrew Prophets, and the Revelation), it’s because the writer is trying to tell you something that succinct language cannot convey.
Poetry can say things that laconic prose cannot. That’s why I’m so taken with the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It’s an anomaly. Mark is as economical with his words as most New Testament writers. But Mark One goes to the trouble of describing John the Baptist’s wardrobe and diet. It likens the Spirit to a dove. It goes out of its way to tell us that, after his baptism, Jesus fled out into the wilderness for forty days, where he was “tempted by Satan.” Mark deems it necessary to inform us that, in the wilderness, “he was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”
Mark’s not usually a poet or a big talker, but he gives us a stark visual image of those forty days in the desert. He implies forty days of hardship; forty long afternoons of searing sunlight in the narrow shade of a rock; forty cold desert nights spent on the chilly ground; forty days of fending off the wild beasts, bands of hungry jackals, feral dogs, cobras, and birds of prey. Or perhaps those beasts were not enemies but—like the angels—his only friends. Have you ever wondered how exactly “Satan” tempted Jesus out there among the rocks, and the sunlight, and the wild beasts? Tempted him to do what?
I believe Jesus was tempted to turn his back on his own belovedness. I believe he spent those forty hard and lonely days struggling with the voice that he heard at his baptism, telling him that he was chosen and loved. Jesus spent his time in the wilderness coming to terms with the realization that he is God’s own, that he can no longer live quietly for himself. Now that he knows he’s loved, he must throw his life into all causes of love out there in a greedy and unjust world. But why the wild beasts? Mark is surely telling us that silence and solitude will force us (and perhaps enable us) to face the beasts in the wilderness of our spirits…and in our world.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 18, with worship in the sanctuary at 7:00 p.m. Lenten devotional packets will be available in the Narthex. Weeknight worship services will be announced. But before that holy season of soul-searching is upon us, before it all begins, let me ask you a question: How might you spend the forty days of Lent distancing yourself from the noise of the world, opening yourself to the new possibilities of this season, facing the wild beasts in your own inner desert? Easter morning is coming, with its lilies and green buds. But first…a season with your beasts.
In Christ’s Peace,