by Father Mike Stubbs
Mr. Prince: We’ll see you when you get back from image enhancement camp. Martin Prince: Spare me your euphemisms! It’s fat camp, for Daddy’s chubby little secret! (“Kamp Krusty,” “The Simpsons,” 1992)
Sometimes, in the retelling of a story, we tone down its language. In doing so, we
perhaps make it sound more dignified, more respectable. At the same time, it may lose some of its original fire.
“Image enhancement camp” definitely tones down “fat camp.” Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 1:2- 15, tells the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert at the beginning of his pub- lic ministry. Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark’s Gospel to include that story in their Gospels.
At the same time, in retelling the story, they watered down the language a bit. They report that “Jesus was led by the Spirit” into the desert. It’s not exactly a euphemism, but it’s close. In contrast, Mark had originally written: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.”
The verb translated here as “drove” comes across very strong. It is the same verb that Mark uses to describe exorcisms, when Jesus drives demons out of the possessed. Another possible translation would read: “The Spirit threw Jesus out into the desert.” It is almost as though the Spirit is compelling Jesus to enter the desert, whether Jesus wants to or not.
Once in the desert, Jesus is tempted by Satan. For 40 days, the two are engaged in a contest of wills. In the emptiness of the desert, it may look as though only Jesus and Satan are taking part in this struggle. In actuality, though, Jesus is not alone. The Spirit who drove him into the desert, the Spirit who descended upon him at the moment of his baptism in the form of a dove, remains with Jesus constantly, to strengthen Jesus in his battle with evil.
Perhaps Mark uses the verb “drove” to emphasize the power of the Spirit, to describe how the Spirit brought Jesus into the desert. That is the original fire of the story. It is the fire of the Spirit.
Even though, later in his Gospel, Mark may not mention the Spirit at work in Jesus, we know that the Holy Spirit is the invisible force active in Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus heals the sick, when he confronts demons, when he engages in controversy with false teachers, it is the Holy Spirit who sustains Jesus.
That also holds true for us. As we enter the desert of Lent, as we confront the demons within, the Holy Spirit is also there to strengthen us in our struggle. We are not alone.