In the Lectionary

February 21, Lent 1B (Mark 1:9–15)

Jesus is attended to by angels—and wild beasts.

Fresh from his baptism, still waterlogged from the Jordan, Jesus is thrust into the wilderness for a time of preparation and testing. Mark doesn’t give us many details—there is no biblical repartee between Jesus and Satan here as in Matthew and Luke—but what we do get is vivid. Angels tend to Jesus. And he is “with the wild beasts.”

It’s a disorienting narrative, toggling between two distinctly contrasting moods. Immediately prior to these verses, we’re introduced to John and his bracing manner. His demeanor and words are meant to challenge, not coddle. So the baptism, we must imagine, is no dainty sprinkling of water but an unceremonious dunking. Jesus is baptized by his prophetic cousin, standing waist deep in the river, John’s camel’s-hair robe hanging heavy on his shoulders, and the ritual is punctuated by the heavens ripping apart.

But then . . . the Spirit descends like a dove. Through that curtain of sky, an unassuming bird of the air flutters down. The juxtaposition couldn’t be clearer between camel’s hair and downy feather, between the rent heavens and a gentle cooing. Then comes the voice, uttering words of comfort: “With you I am well pleased.” As in Luke (but unlike in Matthew), this affirmation is for Jesus’ ears alone.