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This Sunday's Programme

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1st Sunday Lent

Sunday 18th February 2024

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mk 1: 12-16

After Jesus’ baptism when the heavens opened, the Spirit descended and the Father’s voice was heard saying, ‘You are my Beloved Son!’ the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days begin tested by Satan. He was with the wild beasts and the angels cared for him.
Now after John was given over (into prison), Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the reign of God. He said, ‘The moment is now, the reign of God is so close. Change your attitudes and embrace the good news.’

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 24: 4-9

O God, make your ways known to me,
teach me your paths,
You are the God of my salvation.
All day I look expectantly to you.

Remember your compassion, your kindness.
They last from age to age.
Remember not my youthful sins, my offences.
Remember according to your mercy, O God,
for the sake of your own goodness.

God is good and upright.
He teaches his way to sinners.
He leads the humble in his ways,
reveals to the meek his path.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, at times we feel that we have been driven into the wilderness. The difficulties and suffering in our lives overwhelm us and make us feel sorely tested. Let us know that the Spirit guides us and that Jesus, our brother, is with us. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

Mark’s account of Jesus’ time in the wilderness comes immediately after his Baptism. The two are linked. The Spirit who descended upon Jesus is the one who drives him into the wilderness. There is no mention of temptation in Mark’s account; rather Jesus is there to be tested by Satan. The word “Satan” comes from the Hebrew originally meaning ‘obstacle’ and, by the time the New Testament was written, it meant ‘adversary’. So what could Jesus’ testing have entailed if not a struggle to determine how to proclaim the ‘good news’? Being tested meant experiencing the ‘obstacles’, the ways in which Satan could delude people.

There are significant instances of testing in the Old Testament: Abraham and Isaac, Job, but the greatest was the Exodus experience. The mention of 40 days not only reminds the reader of this time but also of Moses’ and Elijah’s 40 days of prayer and fasting in preparation for the revelation of God. Only here, the revelation has been given at the baptism. This is now the time of preparation for preaching.

The ‘beasts’ can stand as cohorts of Satan, whose role was to terrify Jesus, or they stand as a symbol of the harmony with nature that Jesus’ salvation will ultimately bring. The text could be understood either way.

Once the ministry of John is finished with his arrest, Jesus begins his, proclaiming the Good News of God. The first thing needed to hear this Good News is to recognise that change is needed. This is not just a change of a person’s way but rather entails both mind and heart.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

A friend has a son who has severe autism. After many years of love and therapy he is a member of the small town in which they now live. Rearing him has not been easy; in fact, it has been incredibly hard, with many painful times. The friend told their story in a book in order to give hope to similar parents. I wept while reading it. At the book launch, I asked her if there was anything she would have changed about her son. She paused, thought deeply and answered, ‘No, only the way people treated my son.’ She, her husband, the friends that supported them, the boy himself and the man he has become, were a long time in the wilderness and they were sorely tested. Yet having passed through that time, my friend would not take away her son’s autism because that was part of who he was and is.

Each and every one of us has aspects of our person that are weak, failed, or prone to sin. Living with those aspects is hard and we often wish God would take them away. God rarely does that for if they were taken away, we wouldn’t be who we are. No, we are not meant to give up or indulge the sin. Rather we are to live in our wilderness, having courage against the beasts that seem to threaten us, taking the help from the angels (who so often have a human face) and wait for the revelation: that grace will glow through our failures and our wounds. The last time I saw my friend’s son, he glowed with life – he knew how precious his journey had been.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

How can we tell bad from good? Too often we judge good and bad based on what is pleasant and congenial. Jesus’ time in the wilderness must make us pause. After he had received loving confirmation from the Father, the Spirit ‘drives’ ,‘casts out’ Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. Are the ‘beasts’ there good or bad? We don’t know. They could be a reminder of the idyllic time before the Fall when Adam lived in harmony with all of nature. If so, Mark is portraying Jesus as the new Adam bringing salvation. Mark could also be alluding to the image from Isaiah when all nature would be in such harmony that the lion would lie down with the lamb. But the ‘beasts’ could also be understood as friends of the demonic powers, set on terrifying Jesus. Most likely both meanings are intended.

In our lives there are many negative things we could call ‘beasts’ – chronic illness, addiction, unemployment, disability, etc. Are they good or bad? Given how they can undermine us and turn us in on ourselves, we would call them bad. Given the way grace can work through them, opening us to the love of God and others, we would call them good. Lent is a good time to let the Spirit drive us into our wilderness to meet our beasts. Only one thing we can be certain on, Jesus is with us. How will he tame our beasts? We can only wait and be ready for the time of grace.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– In this fresco of Fra Angelico, Jesus remains calm and resolute throughout his temptations .

– In contrast in this painting by Henry Copping turbulent sufferings rack the face and body of Jesus.
Andars Dagmar shows Jesus striding determinedly out into the wilderness (right hand side).
– In Bernado Campi’s painting Satan seems the most reasonable of creatures as he tempts Jesus.
– William Brassey Hole’s painting aims at a realistic representation. Here Jesus wends his out into the wilderness.   In Forty days in the Wilderness, tempted by Satan he is obviously suffering isolation and hunger.
– In this panel of Christ in the Wilderness  by Harold Wood, we see Jesus struggling and discerning in four different places..

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

We, each and all, have wilderness places in ourselves where we fear to enter. Over this coming week, gently notice the situations where you feel uncomfortable, the thoughts you don’t want to pursue. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into discerning whether you should let them be or whether it is now time to enter that wilderness.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest gently in the love of God.

We have begun Lent and received the invitation to journey with Jesus into the dark places of the human heart.  As you rest in God’s love, ponder on the darkness that can exist in people’s lives and ask yourself if you can be compassionate to that darkness as Jesus was.  Ask him for the wisdom to know how to approach your own darkness and how to be with others in their darkness.

Rest in the love of your God.