From: Music As Prayer
I have always liked the conciseness of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. While other gospel writers expand and elaborate on a story, Mark’s version is often as succinct as possible. The temptation of Christ in the wilderness, the gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent, is a case in point. Matthew and Luke each enumerate three different temptations and include dialogue between Jesus and Satan. But Mark reduces the story of temptation to a single verse: “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan: and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him,” (Mark 1:13). Wilderness. Temptation. Wild beasts. Angels. In four dramatic images, we feel the strenuous challenge that marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and if we allow the imagination of our hearts to be engaged, we view the reality of our own lives at a profounder level.
Wilderness. Who of us has not known the wilderness? The wilderness of grief. The wilderness of broken relationships. The wilderness of depression. The wilderness of injustice. We have known these vast, barren stretches in our isolated souls, and we have known them as communities estranged from hope and compassion.
Temptation. Who of us has not known temptation in the wilderness? How tempted we are to look out only for ourselves, our own needs, and our own survival while ignoring neighbors and strangers, who are as desperate as we are. Mark does not name the specific temptations Jesus faces. Instead he boils it down to three words: “tempted by Satan.” By compressing the matter to so few words, Mark alerts us to the pervasive possibility of succumbing to forces that, although immediately attractive, are ultimately destructive of all that is good and holy in our lives.
Wild beasts. Who of us has not been with the wild beasts while tempted in the wilderness? They take many forms: the dreams that haunt our sleep, the corrosive powers that attack our best efforts, the inner demons that thrive in the grey cells of the mind. Our fear of them weakens our resistance to the voice of temptation.
“And the angels waited on him.” There were angels in the wilderness? Angels in the face of temptation and wild beasts? Yes, there were angels. Angels are the way Biblical writers indicate God’s ministry to human beings. God reaches out with care and comfort even while remaining beyond our mortal comprehension. Once again Mark says it as concisely as possible: “And the angels waited on him.” Or, as the King James Version translates it, “And the angels ministered unto him.” J. B. Phillips paraphrases: “And only the angels were there to care for him.”
But where are the angels now? How will they care for us during this time of national and global testing? Although none of us can command angels to appear, I can witness to angels showing up in my own life while I was in the wilderness. Not infrequently it was when I was in church and the organ sounded – sometimes a trumpet stop, sometimes a reed, sometimes the perfect registration to accompany a hymn I have sung since childhood – or the choir performed an anthem that buoyed my soul. There was no fluttering of wings, no haloed Heavenly creature before me, but there was a renewed resilience in my heart, a lifting of my spirits, a sense of God’s attentive hand. From years of talking to scores of people in workshops and conferences, I know I am not alone. Although they did not use Marks’ exact words, they spoke of times of wilderness when music sounded and the angels ministered to them.