Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (22 February 2015)

Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (22 February 2015)

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:12-15 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

Matthew (4:1–11) and Luke (4:1–13) both draw on Mark in giving their own accounts of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. Similarly, Matthew (4:12–17) and Luke (4:14–15) both draw on Mark for their accounts of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.

Mark’s audience would have been made up of people who had undergone a significant adult conversion and others who were potential converts. They would have been familiar with earlier statements such as 1Corinthians 11:23-26 and 15:1-11 (written about 57CE) and sermons such as those cited by Luke in Acts 2:32-36; 4:10-12; 5:30-32 & 10:36-41. Mark introduces them to the story of Jesus “‘from Nazareth of Galilee’ (1:9) so that they too might be caught up by his message (1:14-15) and be challenged to believe that neither demonic powers nor brutal rulers can ultimately triumph over Jesus or over them”. (John R Donahue SJ and Daniel J Harrington SJ, The Gospel of Mark, Liturgical Press, 2002, 67.)

This passage follows immediately on the account of Jesus’ baptism. No baptismal party here! Jesus moves straight into an encounter with the evil one. This is a stark recognition that his mission is the establishment of the Kingdom. His very identity is at stake here. We will find as we read these early chapters of Mark that this focus on the Kingdom is absolute. When demons are cast out they are ordered to be silent about him. When people are healed they are ordered not to tell anyone. There must be no distractions or diversions! Central to Jesus’ identity is a ‘must’, and inner demand that is inescapable.


Like Jesus, each of us has an ‘existential must’ waiting to be heard in the depths of our beings. This is the ultimate expression of who and what each of us is. The authentic life is a response to that ‘must’.

This is the place of both vocation and conscience. You are your vocation. Conscience is the your unique being seeking to express itself and be heard.

Mark uses an arresting expression at the beginning of this passage: “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness”. There is a clipped quality to much of Mark’s Gospel, nowhere more so than here. Compared with Matthew and Luke, it is sparse indeed. This style, together with the immediacy of the baptism, adds a sense of urgency to the event. The verb ekballo (ἐκβάλλω) is used when Mark is speaking of Jesus casting
out demons – see for example 1:34, 39; 3:15, 22 & 23. This is an expression that contains inevitability. Just as the demons must go out, so Jesus must go out into the wilderness.

John Henry Newman caught this reality well when he wrote: “I am what I am or I am nothing. …. My first elementary lesson of duty is that of resignation to the laws of nature, whatever they are; my first disobedience is to be impatient at what I am, and to indulge an ambitious aspiration after what I cannot be.” (J. H. Newman, A Grammar of Assent, Image Books, 1955, 272f.)