The passage from Mark which is our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is a favorite of mine because it contains this statement: Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
I am intrigued by the phrase “with the wild beasts.” What is the relevance?
I choose to take these “wild beasts” as a metaphor for the temptations that Satan offers up to Jesus in this wilderness setting. The wilderness itself can be a metaphor for the place where we are most apt to encounter God, on the one hand, and, apparently, temptation on the other. God can come very close to us, and God’s angels can be very comforting to us, when we are most likely to be led astray. We retreat to the wilderness to confront our demons. God is doing battle with the worst that can befall us, to protect us and to help us to emerge victorious from our earthly struggles.
Especially during this 40-day Lenten period we become aware of our sins and the need for repentance. There are occasional sins which challenge us every day—a fleeting thought or an impulsive word or an aggressive act that is out of character to our true self.
Then there are the persistent sins that continually confront us. They may be very much a part of our character. As the member of Alcoholics Anonymous would say, they are “character defects.” Perhaps we are in the habit of lying, even about insignificant things. Or we are habitual procrastinators. Or we tend to be judgmental.
Then there are the addictions which drain us and rob us of the ability to act in our best interests. They constitute our worst instincts that seem to have a life of their own, and they operate continually to defeat us. To maintain our metaphor of the “wild beasts,” they devour us.
Habits left unchecked can develop into addictions. An addiction has a life of its own that operates outside our ability to control it. Only major surgery—a psychic change—can lead us to a new and better life beyond addiction. Our own willpower remains powerless in the face of such a wild beast.
I place all these examples before you as a kind of smorgasbord of personal inadequacies—the occasional oversight or incidental misstep, the bad habit, the wild beast of addiction. Choose one that you wish to lay before God during this Lenten season. Ask God to send his cadre of angels to comfort and defend you in this one regard. Enter the wilderness alone to be with God in a period of meditation each day, for 40 days. Focus on a favorite scripture or the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
“Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Psalm 55:22 (King James Version)