Mark is notoriously skimpy on the details. It is part of what makes us pretty sure that Mark’s Gospel was the first. The story was still so fresh. It was still being told, word of mouth, passing down from those who lived it to the following generation. The world was still very early in the transition away from scrolls and to the codex. Most folks would remain illiterate for another 1,500 years. Important things were passed down by story, and not by text. Yet, Mark decided the key details of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection needed to be saved. And so, he put pen to parchment. The story he told wasn’t meant to be the full story, it was but the “beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Yet, there are occasions when, for reasons unbeknownst to us, Mark includes a detail or chooses a specific word, that makes us wonder.
In our Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Lent, Year B, we have one of those words that makes the exegete scratch her head and wonder. It is easily missed in a story that jumps over months of time in just a few sentences. From our third encounter with Jesus’ baptism by John since the liturgical year started to Jesus being tempted in the wilderness to John’s arrest and Jesus’ first sermon, these six verses certainly get the story moving forward. As preachers know, however, Mark’s pace can be deceiving, and this rush through the wilderness is no exception. After God the Father declares Jesus to be the beloved Son, Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit “immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”
In digging into the word “drove,” I noted that Matthew and Luke, who are thought to have had Mark in hand when they wrote their own Gospels, didn’t keep Mark’s emphatic word, choosing two more passive verbs that are both translated into English as “was led.” Further, the word Mark chose is the word repeatedly used to describe what happened when Jesus “cast out” demons. In Mark’s understanding, the period of testing in the wilderness (more on that word later this week), wasn’t something Jesus was politely led by the hand out into, but rather he was compelled, even propelled, away from the comfortable words of the Father into a time in which his faith in God and himself would be severely tested.
I can think of times in my own life when there was a clear distinction between God leading me somewhere and God driving me in a certain direction. Maybe you have too. I’m sure at different times in his earthly ministry, even Jesus needed more of a push in a particularly challenging direction. As we approach the season of Lent and take extra time to listen for God in our lives, what do you think? Is God’s call in your life today more of a gentle leading or do you feel driven?