From the Gospel of Mark:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Mark 1:12-13 (NRSV) – March 10, 2014.)
Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert is related by each of the Synoptic Gospels. Luke and Matthew give us a detailed account, noting that Satan tries to get Jesus to (a) turn stones into bread, (b) throw himself from the pinnacle of the Temple so as to demonstrate his power over the angels, and (c) worship Satan who promises him world domination. (We heard Matthew’s version on Sunday morning.)
Mark is typically terse giving none of those details: Jesus “was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan.” I prefer Mark’s version. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says of Jesus that he “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) It’s Mark’s Jesus that the writer is talking about.
Matthew’s and Luke’s Jesus faced temptations I will never face: I know darned good and well that I can’t eat rocks nor make them into anything edible no matter how hard I try; I’m much too afraid of heights to even get to the top of a church steeple let alone be tempted to some daredevil base-jumping stunt; and no one is ever going to suggest that I become a world dictator. My temptations are of a much more pedestrian sort.
I often face the temptation to sit on my butt and do nothing; faced with an onerous task, or a boring one, or just a mildly unpleasant one, I will be tempted to turn away from it for something more enjoyable. Mark’s Jesus might have thought about (I think probably did consider) that possibility out there “with the wild beasts.” Then there’s procrastination, the simply putting off of something until it just has to be done; maybe that’s why Mark’s Jesus was out there for forty days, just putting off doing what he knew he had to do. And there are so many more . . . the prosaic and unexciting tests of everyday existence.
By not getting into too much detail Mark lets us believe, Mark encourages us to believe, that Jesus is with us in those. That’s my Jesus, Mark’s Jesus, the one who in every respect was tested as I am, who faced the tedious temptations and didn’t give in.
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.