The first kind is the worship of latreia,(adoration) which we give to God, who alone is adorable by nature, and this worship is shown in several ways, and first by the worship of servants. All created things worship Him, as servants their master. "All things serve Thee," (Ps. 119.91) the psalm says. Some serve willingly, others unwillingly; some with full knowledge, willingly, as in the case of the devout, others knowing, but not willing, against their will, as the devil's. Others, again, not knowing the true God, worship in spite of themselves Him whom they do not know. — St. John of Damascus
- We are again at the Jordan with John, just as we have been a few weeks ago at the beginning of Epiphany. But now, it is Lent. It is not so much the baptism that now concerns us but the temptations in the wilderness. Unlike Luke and Matthew, Mark is frightfully sparse on details. One wonders if the episode is really of import to Mark. Yet,he bothered to record it and that might imply some importance.
- So, between baptism and first proclamation lies a wilderness experiment of significant duration. The number: “40” recalls the wandering of Israel as nomads before the entry into the Land. They also battle demons in the wilderness and often they lost their struggle. They, likewise, were attended by the voices from heaven, transmitted through Moses, not through angels.
- It was but a few days back that we read from the story of the healing of Simon Peter’s mother. There, Jesus would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mk 1:34) In turn, I suppose Jesus knew them. This familiarity, is this the fruit of the desert? Somehow an initial skirmish between Jesus and Satan has taken place. For now, Mark will not let us know how that went but we assume that Jesus prevailed in the fight.
- Going into the desert was not for the fainthearted. The books on the wisdom of the desert Fathers are certainly quaint. Yet, the fathers and mothers of the desert went there to be tested as once Jesus had been tested. They assumed that the evil one would follow them and that many a demon would surface that they would have to conquer. The desert saints went into the desert to discover what would follow to assail them. Those who conquered seem to have become wise and very peaceful people.
- Merton recalls to us an episode of a pilgrim reaching one of the masters and begging him for a word of wisdom to take with him. The sage refused explaining that the only reason the pilgrim asked for a word of wisdom was so that he could repeat it once back in town. Merton put this story at about page 30 of a 100 page book, just far enough for the average preacher to have gotten excited about all the great quotes to use in sermons. There was wisdom to be gained in the desert. But you cannot ask for it. This wisdom is the result of the struggle, not words of sages passed on for discussion or consideration.
- We almost read a story of Jesus versus the world of darkness last week. After Jesus, Peter, James, and John descend from the mount of Transfiguration there is a possessed young man. The disciples were no mach for the situation but Jesus certainly was. As the disciples inquire about their own inability to deal with the demon Jesus tells them that: “This type only comes out with prayer.” (Mk 9:29) Was the desert the prayer that he was speaking of? Did he not repeat the desert now and again by sneaking out before dawn to pray in lonely places? (Mk 1:35)
- Mother church has called a fast: Lent has come and for 40 days you will do what, Christian? In a strange way, Lent is an invitation into the desert. You, Christian, have demons that contend with you even now, even if you do not realize it or admit it. They contend with you quietly and you have made peace with them. Time has come to face them, to conquer them. That is done intentionally.
- There is one who is too strong for you, but he has been overcome. That is the evil one, Satan himself. Jesus has overcome his power by not surrendering to him or making peace with him. Jesus overcame it by overcoming his greatest advantage, the power to accuse you of your sin. Jesus has overcome his greatest weapon: The threat of death.
- This is what makes our fight in the desert of Lent possible. Whatever battle we fight, the dark foes have no cavalry to hope for. That was destroyed at Calvary. We face up to our demons and sins in hope and confidence. We fight them in the name of the one who conquered and we fight them to his Glory.