“He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” Mark’s account of the temptation in the desert caught me off guard when I first read it. I’ve gotten used to hearing Matthew’s account, in which everything happens in a neat order: Jesus is baptized, is led to the desert and tempted, and finally, “the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Mt 4:11). Clearly, my stubborn, individualistic self thinks Jesus had to get through the temptations on his own, and when he had been successful, the angels came to succor him.
I have a bad habit of trying to follow this pattern in my own life. I catch myself trying to fight temptation by my own strength, hoping to earn God’s blessing when I’ve succeeded. I fall into this trap nearly every Lent. I want to do all the things to show how holy I am and how much I’m willing to do for Jesus, and I totally forget that Jesus died for me before any good deed that I did. While it’s definitely good for me to “give something up” for many reasons, I have a hard time remembering that my efforts aren’t earning me God’s love. I’ve had that all along.
Which is why I think Mark’s account in today’s Gospel is such a good reminder for me. Mark’s descriptions are often short and to the point like this. There are no frills, no elaboration. He simply says, “He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”
In other words, Jesus didn’t have to be successful to earn help from the angels—they were with him the whole time. Which I take to mean, in my own life, that when the boys are galloping down the hall on all fours and roaring like wild beasts, and the noise level is getting to me, and it feels like I’m in a desert, surrounded by frenzy and chaos, I’m not alone. The ministering angels are right there, waiting for me to ask for their help.
I’m a very independent person by nature, and most of the time I’m perfectly happy to be alone. But when the wild beasts of the desert surround me, wailing for attention, justice, or more animal crackers, I know that I need the help of those ministering angels. And I am thankful that God sends them to my aid because he cares for me, whether I’ve done anything to earn his love and help or not.