Mark 1: 9 – 15  The Temptation of Apathy Mark 1: 9 – 15  February 21, 2021


The Temptation of Apathy

Mark 1: 9 – 15


(preached February 21, 2021)

The church season of Lent is a time to examine ourselves and our lives.  It’s a time for each of us to ask ourselves, am I living by the just and loving ways of God?  It’s a time for each of us to make changes where we need to, to follow in God’s ways.  On this first Sunday of Lent, we hear Mark’s account of what Jesus endured right after his baptism.  Mark uses very few words.  He says: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…tempted by Satan…and he was with the wild beasts.”


How about those wild beasts?  Are the wild beasts threatening him?  Are they pacing back and forth, growling, ready to do him harm?  We don’t know.


Or it could be that Mark is telling the story on another level, a metaphorical level.  Maybe Jesus isn’t with actual wild beasts.  But he might as well be.  He’s engaged in a struggle: a struggle against temptation.  He’s struggling with the temptation to use his power for his own purposes.  He’s struggling with the temptation to use his power to put his purposes – not God’s purposes – at the center of his life.


To put it very simply, that’s what sin is.  Sin is our tendency to put ourselves, and our own purposes, at the center of our lives.  To put it a little differently, we sin when our primary purpose is fulfilling our own wants and needs.  We sin when we make our own wants and needs more important than the purposes of God.


Speaking for myself, I sometimes feel the temptation to make my need for comfort more important that God’s purposes.  To be more specific, I’ve been tempted to stay in my comfort zone, away from the problems of the world.  I’ve been tempted to care more about my comfort and less about God’s purpose of justice for humanity.  I’m talking about my own experience here.  Your experience may be different.


But I’ve experienced we might call the temptation of apathy: the temptation of simply not caring.  Speaking for myself, at times I’ve been tempted to turn away from problems in the world around me.  For example, in the past few years we’ve become painfully aware of the racial injustice that continues to be a huge problem, a problem that we as a country have to rectify.  At the same time, groups that want to achieve white supremacy are on the rise.  And here’s where I’m tempted:  sometimes I feel apathy creeping in.  Apathy may be just not feeling concerned, or it may be feeling like there’s nothing I can do about the problem of racial injustice.  Either way, apathy leads to inaction.


And here’s the sad reality:  as a white person, I can get away with apathy.  I don’t have to pay attention to the struggles African Americans go through because of their race.  I can pretend that everything’s fine.  My family doesn’t experience the disadvantages that black families often experience.

When I was raising my kids, I never had to warn them that they might be treated badly because of their race.  When I talked to them about their future, I told them that they could succeed in this world just as my grandparents did.  When I told them what my grandparents did to make their way in the world, I was telling success stories.  My grandfather’s small business prospered.  He had no trouble getting loans to grow the business because banks made it easy for white people to borrow money.  For black people, banks made it much harder to borrow.


My grandmother loved to travel.  Nothing prevented her from traveling in comfort anywhere in this country.  When she traveled by train from her home in Michigan to visit her sister in Alabama, she didn’t have to move to a segregated car as the train crossed from Indiana into Kentucky.  She didn’t have to pick up her luggage and carry it to a car with no luggage racks, where she would have to hold it in her lap or under her feet.


When I talk to my kids about my grandparents’ lives, it’s stories of success, of doors opening.  Those success stories told them: you can do this too!  The world is full of opportunities for you!  All you have to do is get an education, work hard, and doors will open for you too.

My family doesn’t confront the difficulties that black families confront every day.  It’s possible for me to stay in my comfort zone.  I can get away with apathy.  I can slide into the attitude that there’s nothing I can do.


Was Jesus tempted to stay in his comfort zone?  Was he tempted by apathy, tempted to turn away from the problems of the world?  After his time in the wilderness, he could have headed back to Nazareth.  He could have continued in the family business.  He would have had a great story to tell about those wild beasts.


We don’t know if Jesus was tempted by apathy.  But we can see from his ministry that Jesus didn’t turn away from the problems of the world.  After his time in the wilderness, Jesus didn’t go home to recover.  He headed out to proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom.  And Jesus did this in spite of the fact that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been arrested.  John was a bold prophet.  He often confronted people in power, reminding them of God’s ways of justice.  So King Herod arrested him, and later put him to death.


Jesus could have heard the news of John’s arrest as a warning.  He could have used it as an excuse not to confront the problems of the world.  He could have stayed in his comfort zone.  Instead, he went out and proclaimed God’s justice.  He confronted the leaders who used religion to keep other people down (Luke 13: 10 – 17).  He turned over the tables of the money changers who took advantage of poor people’s offerings (Matthew 21:12 – 13).  He made God’s justice real.

Lent is an opportunity to examine our lives, and make changes where we need to, so we can follow in the just and loving ways of God.  This Lent I’m struggling with the temptation to turn away from the problems of the world, to feel as if there’s nothing I can do.  I’m praying for strength to take action that will make God’s justice real.  Your struggles may be different.  But we will struggle because Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones.  My prayer for all of us this Lent is that God will give us the strength and the courage to change where we need to, to take action where it’s needed, to serve God’s just and loving purposes.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Lent I


“Ain’t That Good News”.    –   Edward Boatner                           

Maria Ferrante, Soprano           

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist