First Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

Jesus joins us in our wilderness
MARK 1:9-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:10
First Sunday in Lent and Ash Wednesday
analysis by Ed Schroeder

Sabbatarians,
The Gospel appointed for Lent I is Mark 1:9-15. Five of the verses of this 7-verse text have been in Sunday gospels already in the first weeks of this church year. See the Sabbatheology offerings (#40, 46, 48) for Advent 2, Epiphany 1 and Epiphany 3. Absent in these texts we’ve looked at in the past, but central here are Mark’s two terse verses about Jesus’ temptation. There are merely five little pieces: Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, forty days there, tempted by Satan, with wild beasts, angels ministered to him. That’s it.
So in Mark’s version we have no hint of what the tempter offered Jesus as we do in Luke’s and Matthew’s version, namely, attractive alternatives with no cross and still to be Messiah . There’s a signal of cross-connection, however, when Mark attaches the report of John being arrested to his two-verse temptation narrative. I don’t know what to make of the wild beasts. Are they “God’s good guys” like the angels mentioned next, or are they part of the tempter’s panoply of persuaders similar to those so often present in paintings of the temptation of St. Anthony?
An item of importance surely is linking Jesus’ temptation to his baptism by John and the Word from heaven that Jesus receives. Here Mark and Matt. and Luke all agree. Matt. and Luke, you remember, make this Baptismal word from the Father the very target of the tempter’s first onslaught: “If you are the Son of God….” That, by the way, is at the core of all real temptation. Beginning with Eve and Adam it is only believers (children of God) who get tempted in the Scriptures. And the thrust of the tempter is to get the believers to let go of the “Word of God” that they are trusting and living from. It’s not morality vs. hanky-panky that is at stake in temptation. It is faith vs. unfaith. 

FOR MARK 1:9-15 A CROSSINGS MATRIX MIGHT LOOK LIKE THIS:

Stage 1: Jesus joins us in our wilderness–both at his baptism and in the temptation pericope. Wilderness as a Biblical metaphor signals thirsts, hunger, God-empty spaces, the turf of God’s arch-enemy. So what’s the wilderness in people’s lives, believers’ lives too, today?

Stage 2: Note the double reference to repentance (v. 4 & 15). Ergo, what’s our need for repentance? Worse yet, our unwillingness to repent? What do non-repenters trust, believe in? Surely not the Good News.

Stage 3: Unrepentant and not believing the Good News while in the wilderness leaves one dying in the wilderness, with no protection from the tempter, no ministration from God’s messengers, thirsts and hungers never satisfied, finally owned, “possessed” by God’s arch-enemy. Call it hell.

Stage 4 (Good news for Stage 3): Jesus in our wildernesses. Baptized into our sinners’ baptism, tempted in our wildernesses, finally also dying in our wilderness. Recall the frequency of demonic-possession pericopes in the first half of Mark, and the fact that the demons recognize Jesus right away for who he really is. These mini-episodes of re-possessing those possessed by the Arch-enemy come to a climax in the grand finale of Jesus’ re-possession of us all in his cross and resurrection.

Stage 5 (Good news for Stage 2): Repent and believe this good news of Stage 4.

Stage 6 (Good news for Stage 1): Living in our own wildernesses by repentance and faith in the Good News about Jesus. Re-habbing the wildernesses around us. Rolling back the wilderness and repossessing (for God) those still stuck there.

So much for Lent I

Peace & Joy! Ed


If you still need something for Ash Wednesday, try the one below. I used this earlier in the week with a group of pastors (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in northern Indiana. For the three stages of diagnosis and the three stages of new prognosis I capitalized on Jesus’ own image of a tree: fruits and branches, the trunk, the roots.


The Second Lesson for Ash Wednesday 1997
2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 (better 5:16 – 6:10)

DIAGNOSIS OF OUR SICKNESS – UNRECONCILED – OUT OF BALANCE

STAGE 1: FRUIT AND BRANCHES
Thoughts, words and deeds as unreconciled people. Out to be winners, Avoiding any connection to “losers,” or being losers. The human malady–even present in Christians–is to evaluate people and things “from a human point of view.” The Greek term is sarx. It is consistent with keeping an eye out for a person’s “position,” with concern for your own “self-presentation.” Its mechanism is “trespass-counting,” or its flip-side collecting brownie-points.

STAGE 2: THE TRUNK OF THE TREE (THE HEART OF THE MATTER)
Trusting the sarx system as the way to be reconciled, but never reconciled at heart. The tree-trunk that produces such fruit is a human heart operating in terms of the “old creation.” When Christians get caught up (again) in that, it amounts to their “accepting the grace of God in vain.” Sliding from the new creation back into the old. Heart moves to “sarx’s” sort of value axis. Another self-perception takeover (again) displacing the self-perception of being “in Christ.”

STAGE 3: THE ROOTS OF IT ALL
Unreconciled, period. The Root of which is: unreconciled to God. Such a process is ultimately a dead end. It leaves us “unreconciled to God,” who then indeed does “trespass-counting” in evaluating us. We then have to “be sin for ourselves.” We lose out on “the righteousness of God.”

HEALING FOR SICKNESS: RECONCILED. LIVING (BY FAITH) WITH A BALANCED ACCT.

STAGE 4: HEALING AT THE ROOTS
Christ’s “Sweet Swap”= Getting Reconciled to God. In Christ God is reconciling the world to himself. “Reconcile” here is a commercial term–like reconciling your checkbook when the bank statement comes. Getting the debits and credits to balance out. Normally the way to do that–even as God balances accounts with sinners–is to count trespasses (debits) and good works (credits) and see what the outcome is. But in Christ God opts for another way to balance sinners’ accounts. This way is an exchange wherein (v. 21) Christ takes the sinner’s debits and liabilities and give the sinner his assets and credits. Christ gets our sin, we get his righteousness. Such a deal!

STAGE 5: NEW TRUNK FROM NEW ROOTS – HEALING THE HEART
Cashing in on Christ’s Reconciliation: Trusting His Sweet Swap. So “today,” any today, is the acceptable time for sinners to cash in on the sweet swap. Appropriating the sweet swap makes that day the day of salvation. Faith (5:7) is Paul’s fundamental term for such appropriation. (Ap-propriation = making it my “propria,” my property, my possession, mine). Such appropriation puts one “in Christ,” another of Paul’s key soteriological terms. “In Christ” is the alternative to “sarx.” In Christ = New Creation.

STAGE 6: NEW BRANCHES, NEW FRUITS – HEALING ALL THE SYMPTOMS
Carrying out the Ministry of Reconciliation in the routines, the callings, of daily life. Living as Christ’s ambassadors in the still unreconciled world of the old creation where Christ sends us. 5:16 and 6:3-10 are daily life illustrations of how Paul sought to carry it out. Reconciled sinners are “God-being-righteous” down here on the ground. God making his appeal to the as yet un-reconciled “through us.”

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