It’s a curious thing about water. It can be harmful and life saving. We have heard of its harmful effects during tsunamis and floods. In the Bible we have the example of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-7). Some of its positive effects are noted in the Bible, for example one of the key theological beliefs for Israel was the belief that the Lord saved them from the Egyptians when crossing the sea during the Exodus (Exodus 14:15-31).
The Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent (Mark 1:12-15) is very short but carries a significant message. It seems to deal with two themes: challenge and victory. And in Mark’s Gospel this section is preceded by Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:9-11). So it appears that the themes of challenge and victory are met by the saving waters of Jesus’ baptism.
The “challenge” can be seen, first of all, in the locus of Jesus’ experience–the desert. In the Bible the desert is often seen as a place of testing, most likely a temptation. Secondly, it is Satan who provides the temptations. Thirdly, and this is interesting, Jesus was with the wild animals. Why?
Many scholars see this in the sense that Jesus is presented as the new Adam. Before the Fall there was a harmony within creation, and Jesus’ resurrection would make possible the opportunity to bring about that harmony once again. The serpent in Genesis (3:1-23) who provided the temptation parallels Satan tempting Jesus in the desert. Jesus’ resurrection would bring about a new possibility for harmony, a new “garden of Eden.”
The “victory” is presented in terms of Jesus proclaiming the good news of God, which is that the the time for fulfillment has come beginning with Jesus’ ministry and the dominion of God is at hand. The way to bring about the fulfillment is through repentance and belief in the Gospel. According to Mark, Jesus began his ministry through the reception of the saving waters of Baptism, which gave him the motivation and power to proclaim his message, which was one of justice, compassion, undersanding, forgiveness. This was the Gospel he shared with his disciples.
What probable lessons can we learn from the Gospel reading (Mark 1:12-15)? First of all, in Mark’s gospel Jesus’ baptism occurs before the above themes of challenge and victory. We should try to be more reflective of our own Baptism, namely, its saving waters and the responsibilities it puts on us in terms of how we should treat others.
Secondly, at our Baptism we are filled with the Holy Spirit (“creative power of God”) which means that we have the ability to effectively challenge Satan and his multiple temptations.
Thirdly, when we received ashes on Ash Wednesday we were told to “repent” and “believe” in the Gospel. Lent would be a good time to repent by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (“Confession”). Belief in the Gospel is not just an intellectual process. It really means do the Gospel by repeating Jesus’ actions of compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.
Lent has come. We will be challenged by many temptations. We can meet those challenges effectively by repenting and believing (“doing”) the Gospel. But above all we must constantly keep in mind that possible victory comes to us through the saving waters of Baptism which gives us the courage and strength to act. Truly we can say that water does have a further benefit–reminding us of our Baptism.