Summary: This sermon is based on Mark 1:13, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness with Satan and the wild beasts. It examines the wild beasts of temptation in our lives and how Jesus gives us the power to overcome them. (The First Sunday in Lent-Year
Sermon on Mark 1:9-15
March 1, 2009
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan;
and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels served him.
Back when I had cable, I used to love to watch the channel Animal Planet. Not because I like animals, but because I used to like to watch The Crocodile Hunter, that crazy Australian guy Steve Irwin. To that guy, it was nothing to wrestle an alligator or handle the world’s second most poisonous spider. I think he must have had some strange power over animals. The animals seemed to just relax and leave him alone when he said the word “Kraike!” I was saddened when I learned he had been killed by a stingray back in 2006. But I mean, seriously, that guy faced imminent death every day around all those wild animals at his zoo and on his television show. It’s a wonder the guy lived as long as he did being around deadly wild animals every day.
The Crocodile Hunter was about 300 times braver than I am, especially when it comes to spiders. I can handle snakes and stuff, but I can’t deal with spiders and I scream and run like a schoolgirl when a bee chases me. My dad used to really pick on me because of that, but hey, if my running and swatting and stuff manages to get me not stung, then I’m okay with it. What gets me is that this Crocodile Hunter guy would go out there with these wild animals and film them up close with no guns or even a blow dart or something. I might be able to handle a lion or a bear if I had a gun, but you won’t catch me wrestling any crocodiles with my bare hands. I’ll leave that to the folks down in Australia. Being out in the wilderness with wild animals stalking me is not my idea of a good way to spend a Saturday morning.
You’re probably wondering what this foray into the great outdoors is all about. Well, in Mark’s version of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, we are told that Jesus was out in the wilderness for forty days where he was tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts. Not only is Jesus being hunted and tracked by Satan, he’s also in danger from the wild animals. In the words of the late Steve Irwin, “Kraike!”
All the different temptation stories in the Gospels have a few variations, but our gospel lesson from Mark this morning is remarkably different from the versions in Matthew and Luke. We’re more familiar with theirs. In them, Satan speaks and gives Jesus a series of three tests. But in Mark’s version we’re simply told that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days amidst the wild beasts, Satan was tempting him, and the angels were bringing him food.
In the other gospels, Jesus is in the wilderness—fasting, but the emphasis is on Satan. In Mark though, the emphasis of Jesus’ surroundings of the wilderness with all those ravenous wild animals is what comes to the front. Even that dove that descends on Jesus after his baptism in the Jordan is a little more beastly than usual, for we’re told that the Spirit drove Jesus out in the wilderness. That word “drove” would be better translated as “cast out” because it’s the same Greek word used to tell us what Jesus does when he casts out demons. Even a gentle dove seems a little more beastly, almost picking up Jesus with talons and throwing him into the wilderness (to be a little more dramatic). So what exactly is Mark trying to tell us about our story this first Sunday of Lent? Mark tells us about the wild animals being around Jesus because they serve as a figure of the demonic. They add a second level of danger to the temptation story.
The word used here translated as “wild beasts” is a Greek word that can only refer to beasts of prey like lions and panthers, not to domesticated animals. It’s actually the same word that shows up in the book of Revelation—that infamous Beast that arises out of the ocean and terrorizes the world. That Beast is a reference to Rome where they were famous for executing criminals and Christians in the Colosseum by the method of feeding them to the wild animals. Nero, the emperor of the Roman Empire when Mark was writing his gospel was even referred to by his own pagan contemporaries as a wild beast; and it’s the same word that Mark uses in our story of Jesus’ temptation.