Year B 1st Sunday of Lent: Mark 1:12-15

1:12 And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert
1:13 and he remained there for forty days, and was put to the test by Satan.
He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him.
1:14 After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee.
There he proclaimed the gospel from God saying,
1:15 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand.
Repent, and believe the gospel.'


In the foregoing story we heard that John the Baptist preached a baptism of forgiveness of sins. Jesus came from Galilee to receive the baptism. He joined the people who were aware that there was something wrong in their lives, and who wanted to be forgiven and to make a new start. Among these people Jesus will be found in his public life. That is the way God behaves. That is made clear by the fact that the spirit ‘from the heavens’ descends upon Jesus and that a voice ‘from the heavens’ says: ‘You are my son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.’ By joining the ‘wrong’ people and their hope to make a new start Jesus shows that he has the same DNA as God (is ‘his son’). That is the moment that the spirit from the heavens ‘throws Jesus out’ into the desert. Surprising word: the same that will be used when Jesus will throw out evil spirits (cfr. 1:34.39.43 etc.).


By doing the Messianic work (having compassion with sinners and ‘wrong’ people), inspired by the holy spirit, he will be thrown out into the desert and isolated (cfr. 1:45 and in his passion!). The story of Jesus in the desert is a programmatic story: it predicts how it will go in Jesus’ life.

Jesus was tempted by Satan. But Mark doesn’t tell what these temptations were. That as well is a programmatic word. In the course of Jesus’ life there will be several moments of temptations. When they occur we will know that it is Satan’s work (8:11; 10:2; 12:15; 14:38).

Forty days

The number of forty days reminds us of the number of years that God’s people stayed in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. The desert was the place where the people of the Bible learned who God is, the honeymoon time. Was Jesus’ sojourn in the desert something like that? Did he need time to absorb...,  to deal with the fact that the voice from heaven had called him ‘my beloved son’?

Wild animals

Jesus was with the wild animals. What does that mean? I see two possibilities. The wild beasts are a symbol of threatening as we hear for example in Psalm 22:12-13, ‘Many bulls are encircling me, wild bulls of Bashan closing in on me. Lions ravening and roaring open their jaws at me.’

But the angels in the next verse give us an occasion for another explanation. I conclude that the angels are mentioned to make clear that Jesus did not take notice of the temptations of Satan. When Jesus is unharmed in the midst of wild beasts, that reminds us of the situation of paradise before the Fall of Adam. Does Jesus transform the desert into a paradise? We will hear that as well in the course of his life (6:31-44). Both interpretations are possible.

Picture Meditation

This is a painting of Peter Clare taken from the Matthew Cycle. Last year there was no occasion to show it. A stunning painting, ‘At the end of the forty days of fasting Jesus is served by angels.’

The composition is striking. An exhausted Jesus in the centre and the angels on his left and right. He is surrounded by their presence. The angels are not pictured with wings, but with a deviant skin colour. These two angels are caring, tender women.

The pink angel throws a cloak around Jesus’ naked body. A red cloak. We hear a verse of Isaiah (61:10), ‘My soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in a cloak of saving justice, like a bridegroom wearing his garland, like a bride adorned in her jewels...’

The green angel reaches Jesus bread and wine. The text of Mark doesn’t specify what the angels do by serving Jesus. But the Greek word for ‘serving’ is ‘diakonein’, ‘doing the work of a deacon’. What does a deacon do? In the liturgy it is the deacon who has the task/privilege to place the bread and the wine upon the altar. The angels are really ‘serving’ (‘deaconing’) by giving Jesus bread and wine!

I look at Jesus and I try to share his feelings. Being warmed and fed and looking up unto the heaven at the same time, being aware that this help was a graceful gift from God.

Looking at this picture, all the moments in my life when somebody reached me the cloak, as simple as it was, they were moments of consolation, moments that I could have felt the presence of the Lord’s love. All the moments when I was invited at a table, they were moments where I could have experienced how the Lord’s love is present in..., through the human gesture of the people around me.

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ