The web-spun unrest that caught politicians in a wild debate about the threat of hate speech to our democratic republic inspired one congressman to announce his official boycott of social media. This representative announced last month via the Wall Street Journal that he was leaving all social media forums.
“I haven’t decided whether this will be a permanent change or a long pause,” he wrote, “but I believe it will make me a better man, better father, better citizen and better congressman.”
As we enter the season of Lent, the Mass readings this Sunday inspire this question for anyone in public life:
Why not stay on those platforms and let your fellow online citizens witness and learn from your own character improvement project?
That’s the example Jesus set. In Sunday’s gospel reading from Mark (Mk 1:12-15), we see that his entry into a public life among the wild things prepared and strengthened him for his ministry to our wild ways.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts.
In Peter’s gospel, from which we take our second reading (1 Pt 3:15-22), he explains how in a world of hopeless beasts, modeling a spirit of hope can help exorcise any evil tormenting them. He also offers this advice that’s as relevant to today’s web-surfing beasts as it was to the wild things surfing Noah’s ark through the floods God sent them:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
But when wild things are caged, as sinners who are jailed with their sins often are, they lose hope as they gain shame. That’s why, as Peter tells us, Jesus took his ministry into those prisons as well:
… he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient.
By recalling Noah’s ark (detailed in Sunday’s first reading, Gn 9:8-15), Peter seems to imply that Christ was building an ark to transport us wild beasts to salvation. On that ark, the tame had to coexist with the wild. It was a baptism of sorts, just as Jesus’ public life among the wild started with his baptism by John. Peter tells us Noah’s ark gave us a preview of Jesus’ ark:
… while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
We’re all surfing some rough seas on this ark with each other. Maybe if we all modeled Christ’s prison ministry for each other we could launch God’s kingdom safely into cyberspace.