(Mark 1:9-15)

When we say ‘We Are Not Alone’ that is not always necessarily a good thing because it’s like it’s not only God’s who we know is always with us but also every other kind of temptation and distraction and, let’s face it, we can’t always tell those voices apart. We’ll get back to that.

The message of today’s text is in three parts – summarized by Mark with his typical brevity. It
begins with the baptism of Jesus, where God kind of ‘credentializes’ him’ to start his ministry. his way. Jesus is then described as going off on his own to the desert, where he is made ready for his ministry by facing and overcoming the temptations that are in all of us – temptations that we too must overcome if we are to be effective in Christian leadership. Finally, we see Jesus beginning his ministry proper as he begins to declare the good news of God.

Today’s focus is on that reference in verse 13 where Mark us that it was in the desert that Jesus was with ‘wild beasts’ ‘therion’: a word used by St Paul to describe wild and vicious animals, things that need to be fought against. Later, in his letter to Titus , he uses it to describe ‘people who are brutish and destructive’. I’m suggesting that it’s those wild, beastlike forces within us that seduce us away from knowing and living the beauty of God’s intentions for our lives.

But those destructive forces are also deeply cunning – because if they were only ever obviously bad they would be easy to resist – they are not! It seems that temptations are only attractive because they are not necessarily about what is altogether bad, only partially so, but then also only partially good. If they were altogether bad, they’d be obvious and we wouldn’t be tempted to go there. We can always only be tempted to do something which we believe is good at some level but, as we do tragically tend to find is good only for some, and not for others. The problem is when we make partially good for some seem to be totally good for everyone because they in fact are only entirely good for ourselves – and I don’t mean our best selves.

A good prayer is for us to ask for God to help us to distinguish our wild beasts that would hurt us from the angels that God would have care for us, and to show us how easily and often we confuse the one with the other. That’s not just my experience, I’m remembering the writing of Flora Larsson, a beautiful and faithful Salvation Army worker who died in 2000 at 95 years of age. She describes her faith experiences in a little prayer book published in 1973, entitled ‘Just a Moment Lord’ – I’ve since lost it but was able to find a copy online, as an eBook. She doesn’t speak about her ‘inner beasts’ so much as her inner voices, and gives them names like ‘touchy’ and ‘braggart’ as well as ‘saint in embryo’ While there is no schizophrenic diagnosis here, her point is that there are always these different voices within her, prompting, tempting, influencing, telling her different things. She knows that God’s voice is there as well but confesses how she doesn’t always recognise which one is God.

Who are the wild beasts that we live with? Who or what are the wild beast voices and influences that we need to learn to master?

People like to try escaping from all the noisy distraction of our everyday living in order to find themselves in the tranquility of nature. Perhaps at the seaside, or out in a desert, or up the mountains… Somewhere quiet and beautiful. And of course, while that is helpful, the problem with solitude is that there’s no longer any external anyone to blame for all our inner rubbish! We become kind of stuck with ourselves, and just ourselves.

One writer , Belden Lane, writes that no-one should deceive themselves by imagining that retreat to a desert monastery means the guarantee of freedom from the world. The hardest world to leave, is the one within the heart. And yet another, Owen Chadwick, describes someone:
‘…restless in the community and often moved to anger. So he said: “I will go and live somewhere by myself. And since I shall be able to talk or listen to no one, I shall be tranquil, and my passionate anger will cease.” He went out and lived alone in a cave. But one day he filled his jug with water and put it on the ground. It happened suddenly to fall over. He filled it again, and again it fell. And this happened a third time. And in a rage he snatched up the jug and broke it. Returning to his right mind, he knew that the demon of (his inner) anger had mocked him, and he said: “Here am I by myself, and he has beaten me. I will return to the community. Wherever you live, you need effort and patience and above all God’s help.” And he rose, and went back.

What he came to realize was that it wasn’t other people who were causing that anger to rise up in him it was purely from himself. The beasts within. Even people like my ‘sainted’ Richard Rohr writes easily of how he has experienced similar frustration more times than he cares to count. It seems that wherever we go, there we are, warts and all. The beasts are with us!

I’ll never forget my experience speaking to an elderly nun who had the regular practice of spending time alone in silent retreat. She shared how on several occasions she was courageous enough to do that for forty days. It was incredibly beautiful and filled with God’s peace by the end, she said. But those first few days and weeks, it would be as if demons from her past would rise up and attack – all of what she had been exposed to over the years but not dealt with would come back to haunt her.

That’s what my friend and colleague, Garry Schmidt, from the All-Saints Anglican church here in Vernon spoke about. He describes a practice of the Episcopal Church in America, where the Bishop would order priests to go on silent retreat according to a strict schedule that had been drawn up. One of those priests complained that he was ordered to do so at the worst and most busy time of his parish. Very reluctantly, off he went to this beautiful cabin next to the ocean, taking nothing: no books, no cell phone, no laptop. The first week was hard, just filled with his own irritated and distracted and resentful thoughts. The second week was worse as he began to deal with what had been haunting him: all sorts of previously suppressed issues and emotions. It was only by the third week that he began to experience peace – as at last he started developing an appreciation of where he was, who he was, and found that he did not want to leave. He had faced those beasts, they had been harnessed, and God’s angels had been allowed to show up in his awareness to care for him.

Jesus is always presented to us in scripture as an exemplar, an example, a pattern, an archetype of ourselves as we are meant to be – his living serves always as a model/a template for our own living. The Way of Jesus Christ is us as we are at our very best, as God would have us be!

And so the message of our text today is that there are these primal and universal temptations that all humans must face before we can be usefully and responsibly equipped to take on power, as Jesus was just about to do at that stage of his ministry. And, like Jesus, unless we are given to notice, address, come to terms with whatever temptations our beasts are throwing at us, we will be tempted to misuse the power that we have been given – ultimately abuse and be abused by what the scriptures describe as the Evil One for purposes less than God’s purpose.

We all have power. For some it’s obviously so, for others perhaps less obviously so. But we all do have power. The warning here is that unless we deal with the very real inner forces of our inner beasts, they will deal with us, tempting us, distorting us away from using what we have for God’s purposes and instead, use us to cause destruction. We’re about to sing a song by Argentinian songwriter and poet Pablo Sosa, translated into English by Janet May.
If I have been the source of pain,
O God;
If to the weak I have refused
my strength;
If, in rebellion, I have strayed away,
Forgive me, God.

I understand this and the verses that follow to be a very powerful Lenten confession for we who have too often used our power for harm instead of wholeness and life. While that is true, it’s never God’s plan. As Christ followers we would be in the Way of Christ. Recognising our own inner beasts, confessing our struggles, but never being defined by them.

We are looking next week at what it means to be living as a people of ‘The Promise’. Christ’s Gospel Promise. Living by faith means to be living with hope. We cannot access that hope until we have faced and confessed and moved beyond the beasts that would distract us and hold us back.

Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2024.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this message summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:32

[1] Titus 1:12

[1] Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality,