In this morning’s Gospel St Mark tells us that “the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert and he remained there and was put to the test by Satan” (Mk 2:12f)– a very stark picture at first glance!
Immediately before this passage we read about Jesus’ Baptism when He, the sinless One, took on the burden of our sins and was baptised by John. The heavens were opened and the Spirit descended on him and the voice from heaven declared: “You are my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on you.” Strengthened in the conviction of being the Beloved of the Father, at once the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert…..
In the Old Testament the desert symbolised both the place of testing and the place of intimacy with God. We read in the Book of Deuteronomy:
“Remember the long road by which the Lord led you for forty years, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart – whether you would keep his commandments or not …learn that the Lord was training you as a man trains his child.”
For the Old Testament prophets the desert symbolised the place of intimacy with the Lord as we read in the Prophet Hosea:
“I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart …there she will respond to me”.
“when that day comes I shall make a treaty for them with the wild animals …and I will let them sleep secure.” (2:21)and there follows these beautiful lines:
“I shall betroth you to myself forever
I shall betroth you in faithfulness and love
And you will come to know the Lord.”
For me these lines throw light on Mark’s description of Jesus being with the wild animals but the angels looked after him – the Father’s care for those who trust in Him.
The monastic way of life had its origin in the desert and in monastic spirituality the desert symbolises both the place of testing and the place of intimacy:-
The place of testing whereby we experience our own sinfulness and poverty and thus come to share and carry in our hearts the pain, the suffering and anxiety of all our fellow men and women as we journey through the desert of this life to our Father’s house.
The place of intimacy with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a silent witness which is a reminder to all of the truth of God’s existence and is worthy of the gift of our whole lives and at the same time is an invitation to everyone to enter “that space in the heart where every person is called to union with God.” (Verbi Sponsa).
This Lent may we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit into the desert of our own hearts – we need not be afraid of the wild beast or whatever obstacles we meet on the way for we are never alone – Jesus has already travelled through the desert for us and has conquered Satan and accompanies us every step of the way.