Summary: Prayer, fasting and tithing are little gifts we give so that God's power can fill up our weakness.
First Sunday in Lent 2015
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” These words of Jesus, recorded by St. Mark for the Church at Rome, conclude the shortest of the accounts of Christ’s forty day retreat in the wilderness near Jericho. It was a battle, those five and a half weeks, a battle with hunger and thirst, with the constant threat of hostile wildlife, and with the constant human enemy, the Adversary. St. Peter calls him a raging lion, looking for someone to devour. But Jesus was the Son of God, the conqueror of our ancient adversary. And, lest we forget, Jesus faced that enemy after being baptized by John the Baptist. John’s baptism was a mere symbol of repentance. But the baptism of Jesus changed forever the meaning and consequence of that Jewish ritual. So, as St. Peter explains today, the baptism of Jesus now saves us.
Since this is the season of preparation for baptism–we have over a dozen eager catechumens and candidates preparing for reception into the Church on Holy Saturday–let’s reflect on what that sacrament is, and what it does. Every sacrament is an action of Jesus Christ, our divine Lord. Baptism changed with the baptism, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus because everything changed with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why we date every event “anno Domini,” in the year of Our Lord. When Jesus stood in the water and John poured water over His head, the water did not change our sinless Lord. Instead, Jesus’s presence now empowers the waters of Baptism, mingled with the blood and water from His pierced side, to change us. The word “baptism” means in one translation “immersion,” but it really means “saturation.” When we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we are saturated with His life, with His Spirit. Here in South Texas we have a better word for baptism. I call it being marinated in Christ. We are so soaked with Christ that after the long process of growth and suffering and change we call our Christian life on earth, we are other Christs. And, being so like Christ in our virtues and works, we can attract others to Christ and His Church.
Christ was tempted by the devil. Matthew and Luke give an extended treatment of the temptations, but Mark, summarizing Matthew, simply says he was tempted by Satan. “Satan” means adversary, and the Christians of Rome knew well what that meant. It meant, on a secular level, scoundrels like Claudius–who threw them out of Rome–and Nero. Nero fancied himself an entertainer. He was the last relative of Julius Caesar to be emperor. He loved to put on spectacles, and, whenever he was in trouble, he also loved to blame the Christians. So to light up his arena at night, he would arrest Christians and turn them into human torches. The ones who escaped the wild beasts of the arena. Yes, the Church at Rome did not need any elaboration on the themes of temptation, adversary, and wild beasts.