In both Matthew and Luke, we overhear an extended conversation between Jesus and Satan in the wilds, with three distinct temptations related to bread, power, and sacred security.
Mark's story of temptation is much longer.
If you blink, you'll miss the forty days in the desert ... but not the temptation story, because the entire gospel is a battle between Jesus and the forces trying to derail him.
Jesus is tempted and tested throughout.
Jesus begins his public ministry in a synagogue by casting out an unclean spirit, and goes on to contend against others in chapters one, three, five, six, seven, and nine.
But it's not just the demons who test him.
Instant success threatens his wider mission in chapter one.
Religious authorities test him with trap questions across multiple episodes.
His family tries to bring him home and talk sense to him; his hometown rejects him.
His own disciples test him as much as anyone, and at one point he erupts at their ringleader,
Simon Peter, Get behind me, Satan!
It's not because Peter is wearing unflattering red tights and horns.
It is because the Hebrew term Satan means Accuser or Adversary, a role of opposition
that can be played by familiar and beautiful and beloved faces too.
A rich, religious young man wants to follow him, but Jesus looks past his wealth and resume and loves him enough to invite him to sell everything, give them money to the poor, and then come follow; the man slinks away like a defeated tempter.
You cannot turn a page or a corner in Mark without facing another adversary.
Satan keeps after Jesus a lot longer than just forty days.
His whole ministry is a battle.
But Jesus does withdraw from the world to have three lonely, high stakes, one-on-one conversations with no one else istening.
They are not with the devil; they are with God.
In chapter one, as his ministry explodes with early success and he is faced with having
instant, enormous power and glory, he prays.
In chapter six, after turning a few loaves into bread enough to satisfy a starving crowd, he prays.
In chapter fourteen, needing a magical, miraculous rescue in Jerusalem, he prays: Abba.
Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.
And as he is ripped open on the cross, the temple of the curtain is torn apart like the sky.
His death—or as he called it, his "baptism" (10:38)—is accompanied by a voice of
authority, this time from a centurion on the ground: Truly this man was God's Son!
His body was carried away to the wilds, and women came like angels to minister to him.
Next thing you know, he appears in heartbroken Galilee, announcing good news that the
kingdom of God has turned life and death around.
Today's reading is the whole gospel in miniature: baptism-wilderness-good news; cross-tomb- resurrection; Friday-Saturday-Sunday; the tearing of heaven for the healing of the world.
If you blink, you'll miss it, because Mark tells it so quickly.
Because Mark also knows how real life feels.
If you collapse world history into six sentences, this last year would barely be a phrase.
Racial reckoning, a pandemic, a terrorist attack on the capitol, two impeachments: a year that will fill libraries is just the latest little blip in the story of God.
But a few months can feel like forever, and forty days can feel like a lifetime.
Mark in his brilliance presents the temptation of Jesus in its proper perspective: it is only forty days, and it is all of fourteen chapters.
For us as Christians, Lent is only forty days and it is the story of our whole lives.
Everything from baptism to funeral is a battle.
We are tested at every turn, sometimes by mysterious forces, sometimes by familiar faces,
sometimes by shrieking horrors, sometimes by good intentions.
The dangers of failure hound us on one flank and the dangers of success on the other.
Ten years can fly by and ten months can drag on eternally.
Those closest to us can betray us while total strangers can surprise us with their help.
Wild beasts and angels surround us, wreaking both havoc and goodness well beyond both our comprehension and our control.
Politics and religion and family endlessly complicate the story, for good and for ill, and it is our baptismal calling to keep plunging in to what is far more than we can ever sort out.
Life is hard.
Following Jesus is hard.
Love is hard: exhausting and also exhilarating.
So what keeps us going?
What keeps us going is what has come to us.
The kingdom of God has come near; turn and trust in the good news.
Today's reading is the whole gospel in miniature: baptism, wilderness, good news.
Creation, cross, resurrection.
Christmas, Lent, Easter.
Birth, death, salvation.
Summer, winter, spring.
New life, death, new life.
The battle is bracketed by grace.
The struggle is bookended by good news.
The endless winter, the eternal pandemic, the enduring brokenness and pain of the world, is all wrapped in the embrace of heaven's love, pouring out like wine through the cracks in the
curtain and the sky, the barriers between God and humanity that have been breached and broken open like the bread in Jesus' broken, bleeding hands.
Our scary, even deadly daily battle is nestled and held within a wider frame of firm, unbreakable grace.
You are God's child, the beloved.
The kingdom of God has come near.
So widen your view until you can change your mindset and trust the good news.