Gn. 9:8-15; Ps. 25; 1 Pt. 3:18-22; Mk. 1:12-15
(Audio recorded live, 20 February 2021)
On this First Sunday of Lent, our Gospel portrays Jesus as spirit-filled warrior, engaging in a cosmic battle against Satan and his minions. The Gospel of Mark only mentions the Holy Spirit six times, and two of them we have already heard: First, as Jesus receives the Holy Spirit at baptism, and second, as the Holy Spirit drives Jesus out into the desert to contend with Satan. It should go without saying that the Holy Spirit plays a key role in empowering Jesus for battle against Satan, but to what end? Well, Jesus tells us himself when he says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, Jesus’ battle with Satan in the desert is emblematic of his victory over Satan and the kingdoms of the world, and the beginning of a new paradigm of life in the Spirit, namely, the kingdom of God.
When it comes to reading Sacred Scripture, we tend to look at the text on the surface. This might lead some to question why the Holy Spirit would drive Jesus into battle with Satan. But, upon further examination of the text, we discover some interesting points. First, Mark is writing to a community of believers who were under persecution. For them, faith itself was a battle against those who sought to destroy them for it. Second, that the Spirit enters into Jesus at baptism is a sign of what the Marcan community already believed about baptism, namely, that through baptism, they received the same Spirit as Christ. And third, the conflict between Jesus and Satan does not end in the desert. If anything, we see the continuation of this conflict throughout the Gospel as Jesus casts out demons, and ultimately overcomes sin by his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
So, persecution, being filled with the Spirit, and victory over Satan are at the core of today’s Gospel. We participate in this very mission of Jesus through our own baptism. It’s hard not to see the significance of baptism through all the readings today. The great flood during Noah’s time was a sign of cleansing the earth by water, washing away the wicked and preserving the faithful in the ark. St. Peter shows us how baptism is not just an external washing of the body, but rather an appeal to God for a clear conscience, that is, something that takes place in our heart. In other words, baptism washes away the distractions of our former misdeeds and helps us to live in the Spirit, engaged in the battle against evil. And our Gospel shows us how Jesus is victorious over Satan.
So, how might these passages relate to us today? Well, it is important to recognize that through baptism, the Holy Spirit has entered into each of us. And filled with the Holy Spirit, we too, have a share in the cosmic conflict against Satan. It is in the same Spirit that we turn to God with our own acts of fasting and penance, acknowledging how we have fallen into temptation, but are now seeking to renew our place among the angels, who minister to Christ. And so, may the communion we share today awaken our souls to the awesome power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within, and may we who seek to imitate Christ, be victorious in our own conflict against the evil of the world.
Given during the COVID-19 pandemic.