Cycle (B) 1st Sunday in Lent

Gen 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mk 1:12-15

There are many famous treaties made between the countries. The Treaty of Verdun, (August 843) was a treaty between the three surviving sons of Louis the Pious, the son and successor of Charlemagne, which divided the Carlingian Empire into three kingdoms. It ended the three year long Carolingian Civil War. The Thirty Years' War was ended with the treaties of Osnabrück and Münster in 1494. World War I Ended With the Treaty  of Versailles June 28, 1919. The Antarctic Treaty and

related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System or ATS, regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica.

In the Biblical age such treaties were known as covenants. There were covenants between individuals, between families, between villages, between tribes, between nations and between God and men. Breaking the covenant was considered disgraceful. People went to the great extremes for making heroic sacrifices to honour their covenant.

In the regions where Abraham lived, tribes signed agreements in a peculiar way: they would kill various animals, cut them into halves, and put half on one side and half on the other, leaving a space, a kind of path between the two. The parties who established the agreement would walk between the halves of the animals killed. The walking between the halves of the animals amounted to saying, “Let it happen to me what has happened to these animals if I do not keep my word.” The book of Genesis tells us that God walked between the halves of the animals he had ordered Abraham to kill.

In all the covenants that God had established with his people there was a sign. In the covenant with Noah the sign was the rainbow. In the covenant with Abraham the sign was the circumcision and in the new covenant of Jesus it was the forgiveness of sins.

Though people made the covenant with God in good intention to keep it, they were always tempted to break it. In Jesus life, too, He has experienced the temptation to give up his covenant.

The Gospel says that Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days. Forty days is a phrase which is not to be taken literally. The number forty is found frequently in scripture to signify either a time of penitential preparation, or a time of punishment and affliction sent from God. The Old Testament is replete with examples of the use of forty: God punished mankind by sending a flood over the earth that lasted forty days and forty nights (Gen 7:12); the people of Nineveh repented with forty days of fasting when Jonah preached the destruction of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4); Moses and the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for forty years (Num 14:34); the Prophet Ezekiel had to lie on his right side for forty days as a figure of the siege that was to bring Jerusalem to destruction (Ez 4:6); the Prophet Elijah fasted and prayed on Mount Horeb for forty days (1 Kings 19:8); and, Moses fasted forty days and forty nights while on Mt. Sinai (Ex 34:28).

In the New Testament we find Our Lord fasting and praying for forty days and forty nights in the desert in preparation for the public ministry that would end in his redeeming death (Luke 5:35). He is the new Adam who overcomes the temptations of the devil and remains faithful to God; the new Israel, who reveals himself as God’s Servant by his total obedience to the divine will, in contrast to those who provoked God in the desert.

Mark’s brief story of the Temptation finishes with two vivid touches.

Firstly, the beasts were his companions. In the desert there roamed the leopard, the bear, the wild boar and the jackal. This adds to the grim terror of the scene. But as for Jesus, it is a lovely thing. Amid the dream of the golden age when the Messiah would come, the Jews dreamed of a day when the enmity between man and the beasts would no longer exist. Hosea prophesied “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground.” (Hosea 2:18). In Jesus fast in the desert, we see the picture of beasts recognizing, before men did, their friend and their king.

Man in prayer was always respected even by nature. The great rishis of India, spent years in the heart of the nature. Neither beasts nor the forces of nature dared to disturb them. When we are determined to struggle to resist the temptations, nature and the whole creation will be at our side to empower us and to strengthen us. But, what is required is that the first step, the decision, the willingness should come from our side.

Over temptation is actually a two-part process. First, there is the choice you make at the actual time of the temptation. Second, there is the preparation done before you are tempted. It is our failures in the preparation stage that make it more difficult for us to resist our temptations. Preparing ahead of time provides us the tools and strength to help us overcome the temptations.

After his famous expedition to the South Pole, Admiral Richard E. Byrd was riding on a train. A man came up to him and asked, "What did you miss the most down at the South Pole?” Byrd answered that they missed a lot of things. Some of them they didn't mind missing, and others they did; some they were very glad to get away from. He said he was discussing that very thing in the middle of the six months long Polar night with one of the Irishmen in the camp, Jack O'Brien. Byrd asked, "Jack, what are you missing most from civilization?" Jack answered without any hesitation, "Temptation." Temptation is a very real part of life: temptation to stray from the values we hold dear, temptation to take short cuts, to avoid struggle, to find the easy way through.

No sooner was the glory of the honour of Baptism was over than there came the battle of the temptations in the life of Jesus. The great lesson it imparts is that we cannot miss temptations. In this life it is impossible to escape the assault of temptations. But, temptations are sent to us not to make us fall; they are sent to strengthen us. They are not meant for our ruin, but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge better warriors of God.

While God allows us to experience temptations, He never gives us more of these than we can bear. He will give us means to overcome our sinful habits with His guidance and grace through prayer.

Secondly, Mark says that the Angels were helping him. There are ever the divine reinforcements in the hour of trial. Jesus was not alone to fight his battle. Neither are we. We are always supported by God and Men, when we begin our battle.