“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Mark 1:13)
Unlike Israel’s forty years of temptation in the wilderness, Mark’s account of Jesus’ forty days is not colored by looming adversity, where his comfort and safety are obviously at risk. For this reason, we should be careful not to read into Mark’s spare account details we learn from Matthew and Luke. Mark doesn’t portray this time as resembling Adam and Eve’s life after Eden, or Israel’s challenges in the wilderness, where serpents and wild beasts were an active threat. Instead, Mark’s account of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness appears to echo Adam and Eve’s experience while they were still in Eden, and to fulfill Isaiah 11’s prediction of the peaceable kingdom.
Behold! In Mark’s wilderness story, we see a portent of the New Creation, where we will be at one with God’s Creation, and live in harmony with its beauty and ordered rhythms. Angels wait upon us, and we become aware of them. Why? Because as Jesus says in the first words of his mission: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near!” The age has been inaugurated when, as 1 Peter says, angels, authorities, and powers are all made subject to him.
As God’s Kingdom breaks into this world through the mission of Jesus, we should expect to see its presence and power. And we should be moved to live in harmony with its purposes. How do we know these purposes? We learn about them in God’s words to Noah and his family when they emerge from the ark. For forty days, they journeyed through the ‘wilderness’ of the flood, living side by side with all the animals in the ark, both wild and domestic. This poetic image of the ark with its inhabitants, journeying through the flood, provides a potent metaphor for the New Creation, for the Kingdom and for the Church.
Especially fitting are God’s words to Noah once he sets foot on land. God says, “I am establishing my covenant with you… and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you.” Genesis describes this as a covenant between God and the earth, an “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature.”
God still “so loves the world,” with all its wonder and fine beauty.
Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (1834). To see the homily from which the above text is excerpted, please click here. See Isaiah 11:1-9, as well as Genesis 9:8-17.