Text: Mark 1:9-15
Lent begins with the story of Jesus’ fast in the desert for forty days. This desert time was so important for him, that the whole ministry that followed depended on it. His time in the desert was a time of inner struggle with demons and temptations, problems to be faced before entering into the mission task. Before confronting the conflicts of the world, Jesus needed to face the conflicts inside himself. Don’t think that Jesus didn’t have conflicts inside; he was human, and like us, he had temptations and conflicts that he had to resolve.
He needed the solitude of the desert to grow into full maturity. In these days he had close communion with God. And as the Psalm says, “In secret you have taught me wisdom” (Psalm 51:6). He had lessons to learn. And we have to remember that it wasn’t only in the beginning of his ministry that he dedicated time to spiritual solitude and prayer; it was a frequent practice during even his busiest days. It is a common mistake to think that busy people cannot find time to do spiritual meditation. Dag Hammarskjold, who was General Secretary of the United Nations, had, as one might expect of a person dedicated to world peace, a very busy life. When he died in a plane crash, his collaborators found in his desk a copybook with reflections he had made in times of solitude and prayer. He was a very spiritual person. So were Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other important world leaders.
Jesus cultivated spirituality through prayer and meditation. But we, in this modern world, say that we cannot; we don’t have time for it; life is so busy. We have our schedules full of meetings, work, trips; and we need some time to watch TV. That is what is happening in Cuba, in the United States, in the whole world. This is how modern life lures us to live outside of ourselves. All the time we are focused on what is happening outside, so it’s not strange that we live our lives without knowing who we are. We don’t know what the inner forces are that cause us to act sometimes in a compulsory way. And eventually we are surprised by the demons that show their faces in such a way that we say, “That’s not me! I don’t know what happened to me!” And often we look for outside influences to blame for our odd behavior.
What has happened to us? Is it in our natural self that we find the violence, the selfishness, the fearfulness, and all sorts of darkness? No, we weren’t created in this way. Let me illustrate this point. In my city there are two rivers that cross the city. One of these rivers is the Saint John River. I have visited the place where this river originates; a fountain of pure and transparent fresh water, flowing from the rocks. Then the waters’ streams pass through green pastures, surrounded by trees. But when the river reaches the city, the problems begin. The pollution of the city contaminates the water. There are some people who throw trash in the water, and there are rats living on the shore. So, even when the waters are still blue, in reality they are poisoned waters. If you drink one drop, probably there is a hospital bed waiting for you.
This is the way our lives are. There is nothing purer than a baby’s face. Nothing brings more rejoicing to a family than the arrival of a newborn. Why do we feel these tender emotions when we contemplate the baby’s face? It is perhaps because we are seeing the footprints of God in that baby. The newborn comes from God, without anything bad in him or her. It is in the streams of life, in the contact with our environment, that the child starts to be polluted by the dark waters of hatred, fear, violence, and so on. Then the demons come in to inhabit and take over our innocent selves. And this happens quietly, unnoticed, in the silent passing of days and months. We conserve our outer appearance, but something has happened in our insides.
The way of the spiritual path is the only way to know what we really are. Let me tell you that I have known heroes who have risked their lives fighting for justice and freedom, but after the victory and the power are in their hands, they have been transformed into other people: Power has changed them into authoritarians, intolerant, selfish people, adapted to their high positions. There is an expression that says if you want to know who a person really is, give that person power over others.
This is human nature: a potential for good and, at the same time, the vulnerability to temptation. For this reason we need to grow in the spiritual dimension. We need to learn the lesson of the desert; we need liberation in our inner life. Jesus said in John 7:37, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink, and as the scripture says, from their inner life shall flow rivers of living water.”
Yes, it is from the inner life, where the good dwells, that will flow the best. Sure, Jesus is saying, you are good people; what you need is to dig deep into yourselves. He helps us to be liberated from the demons that have come to dwell in us. Because at the beginning, He has put his image in us; we get complete happiness when we return to our true selves and are liberated from the false selves that have been superimposed through the cultures in which we have grown up.
The Lenten season is an invitation to set aside time for mediation and solitude. We need to learn the wisdom that comes through these silent periods. I know people who are scared of silence and quietness; they are disturbed by the silence. So much noise has entered into our lives we think we cannot live without it.
I visit people in prison who have found peace and reconciliation in the loneliness of a prison. Others confined to a hospital bed have found the powerful spiritual strength to live. But we don’t have to wait to be imprisoned or seriously ill to find the spiritual path. We would be wise to look for that path before bad experiences appear.
Let us enter into the desert time with Jesus. Let the winds of the Spirit of God sweep out all the trash from our hearts; let the light of God enlighten our minds to awake from our false dreams. Let us awaken to God’s presence in the desert.
From this desert experience we get the three most important lessons for our lives:
- We learn to be humble; realizing who we are, our own weaknesses, and the deep conviction that it is better to serve than to be served.
- We learn that what makes us more human is to be people of compassion; that is, we look at other people the way God looks at us, with everlasting love.
- In the solitude of the desert we receive the wisdom that nobody else can teach us. That is, we learn the art of living in peace with others and in peace with ourselves.
Finally, besides these enriching blessings of the desert, we are empowered to overcome the challenges from the cultural environment of the world in which we live. Now we have the power to resist a world of violence and selfishness, consumerism, and so on. We have many things to resist in Cuba, especially the loss of hope for the future. You have many things to resist in the U.S. And the wisdom we receive in the desert will teach all of us which things we have to resist.
So, I finish by inviting you: Let’s come to a deeper spiritual life. Let’s go to the desert. Let’s separate a time for silence, meditation, and prayer. Let’s go to the desert with Jesus, and we will be more humble, more compassionate, wiser people. Amen.