Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
First Sunday in Lent- Sunday, February 11, 2018
Mark’s account of Jesus’ Baptism unfolds at a breathless pace. I can almost hear Jesus panting. God sure has a funny way of showing approval to his pride and joy. Mark’s Gospel has the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness immediately after the Baptism and God’s naming him his Beloved. Matthew’s Spirit is more mannerly, leading Jesus into the wild. Luke and John quietly omit this awkwardness.
But the word “beloved” in this text has the connotation that goes further than just a feeling. God’s love for Jesus is an act of will, and that will is fierce. It tears open skies. A dove descends, and Jesus bears the full weight of God’s love. Nothing can hold it back! Jesus’s identity is as God’s choice, God’s will. God is going to love his son, and all God’s actions for and through Jesus stem from that resolve.
By association, that passion spills over onto us. We are loved because Jesus is. The Spirit rips through the sky to make way for God to announce our identity as well. We hear what Jesus hears; God’s choice and gratitude is also for us. Jesus will later prove this poignantly.
To me, this can be a frightening thing, almost too much to take in. So I could understand the need for Jesus to go off and process this or maybe even avoid his Father. But I could also expect that Jesus might freeze. So the Spirit raptor drives him away to contemplate what it means to be the Son of God, especially with what is to come for him.
To understand the impact of this in our lives, we may need to be driven out into our own wilderness as well. Perhaps we are already there. Only we are not alone. Wild beasts are out there. We are vulnerable. We are sitting ducks to voices trying to groom us into someone we aren’t, trying to convince us of what we desire and what is expendable for us to have it, whether it be people or simply life itself in all its forms. But if there is anything this morning’s Gospel should teach me is that I can be guaranteed that these voices are NOT God’s.
The other Gospels fill-in that with every lie Satan tries to lay on Jesus, he rejects and adversely clings to the truth of whom God insists he is and about whom the Spirit confirms. This same distinction is confirmed for us as well. What Satan tries to promulgate is really nothing new. But he IS persistent.
We each need our own wildernesses where the wild beasts seem to have much more civility and dignity than what we can find back in our “civilization”. In our remote and ominous desert, lies are silenced by reverence, awe and the sheer sound of truth. We can fully integrate here just how beloved we are and isolate ourselves from voices who try to tempt us to be anyone other than God’s. Without our vulnerability, we cut ourselves off from the angels who so long to wait upon us.
However, in accepting our name, we must also accept that we can’t stay in the wilderness. We all are the beloved. This is the title by which we must call each other. Coming out of the wilderness may take us to a place more dangerous than the wild. Some of us might be arrested and killed. But love is the Kingdom that Jesus tells us about. It is the Good News. It is our identity. It is the source of our own baptism. Not only are we Beloved but we are the lovers of Creation just as Christ is. This Kingdom is very near us, and if we repent and believe this, we will know intimately angels waiting upon us.
If this vision causes me to be a deer caught in the headlights, the Spirit WILL drive me into the wild and back, which could be terrifying. But what if our Lenten practice is to simply surrender to this essential solitude and learn how to live into whom God knows us to be? As Psalm 25 vs. 9 assures, “All paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”
What if this Lent we can finally trust his stubbornness about who we are in the most treacherous places? What if this Lent we can finally know that God believes we are worth being redeemed?