Wild beasts in the wilderness

A very few Arabian leopards like the one in this photo may still live in the Judean desert. If I found myself alone there, that is an animal I would prefer not to meet up with too closely. But then I wouldn't choose to be there alone in the first place.

It seems that when Jesus faced his temptation in the wilderness, he had not chosen to go there. According to Mark's Gospel, immediately after Jesus was baptised in the Jordan river, the Spirit "drove him out into the wilderness". During Lent, as part of a preparation for Easter, Christians remember this 40 day experience of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is brief:
"And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him." (Mark 1: 12 - 13)
Apart from its brevity the 2 details that interest me most in this is the statement are: "he was with the wild beasts" and "the angels waited on him".

What were those wild beasts?

Wild goats, ibex  and hyrax that could have felt like companions in the wilderness? Or leopards, hyenas, jackals and wolves that could have posed dangerous threat to a man weak from prolonged fasting? Companions or threats or both?

Does the statement that Jesus was with the wild beasts imply that he overcame them or befriended them, living with them in peace?

When feeling alone in whatever wilderness we may find ourselves, unexpected companions on the way - even of a type we wouldn't choose can be what we need to survive the experience.

For any one going through difficult desert experiences the threats are real, can be overwhelming and life-threatening. Jesus too has been "with the wild beasts" and not only in his 40 days of being tempted in the desert. Through his life as Jesus of Nazareth he enjoyed the company of many unlikely supportive companions and was hounded by those who threatened and finally killed him.

How did those angels wait on him?

Mark's Gospel generally doesn't make much of angels, so their mention in this context is all the more striking. It is clear that Jesus' life was protected during his temptation in the wilderness. Was that through the work of angels he actually saw? Or did he not see angels and only became aware later that he had been surrounded by heavenly beings? Or were those angels sent by God in human form, like a passing group of nomadic people offering customary hospitality and sheltering him in their tents at night or from the noon sun? How I would love to know!

Jesus knows our weakness so we may know his power to save.

It's OK to be weak. It's OK to need help in temptation or when facing the threats of 'wild beasts', whatever that may mean for us.

It's OK to let others, even angels in disguise to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus has been there too.

Only by God's grace can we this Lent learn obedience to his Spirit and know his power to save. With that in mind, here is the Collect prayer for this 1st Sunday of Lent with music and pictures.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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