Summary: immediately after Jesus was baptized by John he was forced into the desert by the Holy Spirit

Mark 1:9-15

Today is the first Sunday of Lent – the annual period of self-reflection leading to the joy and celebration of Easter.

It is also the Sunday that we hear in the reading about the baptism of Jesus and God's affirmation that He is His

"well-beloved son."

It helps remind us of our baptisms, the first sacrament we share with Jesus. Just as it was the beginning of Jesus' ministry, it is the beginning of our life in Christ and compels us to follow His teachings and emulate His life.

Although most of us do not remember our baptism, we relive it each time we witness a baptism, and we have the opportunity to begin anew our life in Christ through our baptismal vows. Indeed, as a family of Christ's followers, we commit ourselves to try to live the life Jesus taught.

It's pretty powerful stuff – or at least it can be. We can start again, do better this time, and live up to Christ's teachings and values.

Following His baptism, Jesus went into the desert for forty days. He did not choose to do this willingly but was driven out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. He was cast into the wilderness to prepare for His great work on earth. He didn't go to a library or a spa; he went alone into a wilderness with wild beasts, dust, sand, heat during the day, cold during the night, no food, no water for forty days of fasting and prayer. It was a rigorous time, it was a lonely time, it was a time in which most would have turned back, given up from fear or doubt or dread.

During these forty days and nights, we learn that Jesus was tempted by Satan three times:

• When hungry and challenged to turn stones into bread, Jesus replied that

'we cannot live by bread alone;'

• When in his solitude and powerlessness, Satan taunted him to have the angels catch Him as He threw himself down from the cliff; Jesus reminded us that we should not tempt God;

• Overcome by loneliness and helplessness, Satan offered Jesus the kingdom of the world with all its power and riches; Jesus rebuked Satan, reminding us that we should worship 'only the Lord our God' and nothing else.

In the desert, Jesus found the inner strength, calm, and resolve to claim his identity as God's child and to let the rest of his life - his words, his relationships, and his love, even dying a painful and unjust death on the cross, come from that identity as God's

'beloved Son.'

Jesus denied Satan's three temptations, saying:

Get behind me, Satan!

At that point, he was ready. Jesus came out of the wilderness proclaiming the reign of God had begun.

Jesus suffered and prayed in the desert for forty days and forty nights. And this is why we have Lent.

Does anyone see a pattern of His forty days in the desert and our forty days of Lent?

During those forty days, Jesus was without food and water, being tempted by Satan to prove he was the Son of God. It becomes clear that even with baptism, He (and we) do not get a 'get out of suffering' card. We will still have conflict and suffering. Our baptism equips us both for the realities of the wilderness and joyful proclamation at the resurrection. Through prayer and God's grace, we, too, will get through it.

We have now entered the desert of Lent on our spiritual quest. Lent is not a tame kind of pious self-improvement (giving up something that most people think is good to give up, at least for a time -- chocolate, beer, swearing -- drop a few pounds and maybe look a little more like what our culture thinks of as 'good').

But if we want to experience our Lenten quest fully, we need to realize that our pursuit of these forty days is neither tame nor flippant. Jesus left his family and entered a desert with wild beasts, hunger, bodily discomfort, and all the temptations of Hell - and angels.

And if we strive to follow Him, we should make our Lent a time of fasting, reflection, repentance, searching, and prayer. During our forty days of Lent, we can prepare ourselves for the jubilation of the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning.

Jesus was alone, but we are not alone. We have each other, and we also have something else on our journey - the opportunity to encounter God as Jesus did, to wrap ourselves in God's word that we are His beloved children, to claim that identity as Jesus did - the only identity that matters –

a child of God.

Lent is not only forty days of centering and reflection; it is about dying to an old identity defined by our culture, traditions, habits, and even our families and being born into a new identity centered in the spirit of God.

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