February 23, 2015: Jesus in the Desert

~by Susi Pittman

This week’s Sunday Gospel reading was from Saint Mark, Chapter 1: And immediately the Spirit drove him forth into the desert forty days and forty nights, being tempted the while by Satan, and was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.

Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist whereupon the Spirit had descended upon him and God had acknowledged Jesus as His son signifying Jesus’ messianic mission. It was that same Spirit that led him into the desert to prepare and then be tempted by Satan.

In Genesis, we see that Adam fails in his confrontation with evil and falls into sin. Jesus is the new Adam who will remain faithful to God and defeat Satan. As the nation of Israel had provoked God and wandered the desert for forty years, Jesus in His forty days in the wilderness fulfills perfectly Israel’s failure to be obedient servants. (CCC539) The Old Testament meets the New Testament time and again as we read Jesus’ life and ministry. It is during the forty days of Lent that the Church unites herself to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC540)

So, what about the fact that Jesus was in the wilderness, “out in creation” if you will? And of what significance was the fact that the wild animals and angels were present to him all the while?

It is obvious that being out in what is the beauty of the created wilderness would have been a perfect sanctuary for the Creator. He knows everything about it and its creatures intimately. For him there was nothing to fear. I cannot imagine anything but obedience and love being given by the wild animals to Jesus. Animals were created with an ability outside of our own to respond to things unseen by us, yet visible to them. They surely saw and recognized their Creator and the Redeemer of all creation. And the angels were present ministering to him as he prayed and fasted, certainly communing with His Father and embracing mysteries that we can hardly fathom. This holy setting was of divine importance as at the end of the forty days, Jesus would be confronted by the supreme personification of evil, the devil, Satan.

Why was having the wild animals present to him important enough to be made mention of? I believe it was a new reflection of paradise, of harmony among all of God’s creatures prophesized in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah: Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a a little child to guide them…There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9) In a very poignant way, Jesus embraces this in the desert bringing forward His messianic mission.

In the presence of His wild creatures, perfect peace and harmony is made manifest and we can hope in the New Jerusalem and promised kingdom of our Lord and Savior.Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth. (Isaiah 65:17) And again in the New Testament, Jesus says, Behold, I make all things news! (Rev.21:5) There will be a change in the quality of the earth and creation, but not in the substance. There will be some resemblance between the old and new. (Reference Romans 8:19) (Footnote: Douay-Rheims Bible)

What type of wild creatures might Jesus have been surrounded by? At one time the following creatures inhabited much of Israel:

Syrian Brown Bear, Arabian ostrich, White Oryx, Asiatic Lions, Asiatic Cheetah, European Water Vole, Caucasian Squirrel, Wolves, Saharan Oryx, Gazelles, Nile Crocodile, Hippopotamus, Arabian Leopard, Sand Cat, Striped Hyena, Arabian Oryx, Nubian Ibex, Asiatic Wild Ass, Cheetah, Desert Hedgehogs, Fennec Fox, Fallow Deer, Antelope, Wild Ox, Hawks, Kites and Eagles, and all manner of scorpions, snakes, bats and birds, to name a few.

Jesus was fortified and made ready during His forty days in the desert, accompanied by the wild animals and angels who ministered to Him night and day.

Thank you Lord for loving ALL that You have created and opening the door to Heaven for those who love the Lord and the whole of creation, of which You, the Master Accountant loses not one thing.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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