1st Sunday of Lent – Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“The Start Of A New Humanity”.
The Bible is the story of God’s love for us and our response to that love. God reaches out to us, frees us from our imprisonment, and then enters into a covenant with us. The readings for the First Sunday of Lent have to do with this love relationship between God and humanity. The theme linking together the three readings of today is the destruction of the world ruled by evil and the beginning of a new world.
The first reading presents this theme through the very ancient story of the flood that purified the world from sin and gave rise to a new mankind
The second reading takes up the theme of the flood and applies it to Baptism, The Sacrament that marks the birth of a ‘new person’ in Christ.
The Gospel tells us how victory over sin began. It all started with Jesus who defeated evil during his life. By following him, the ‘New Adam’ all can be made into new men and women.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
In the first reading, God says to Noah and his offspring, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendents after you. Never again shall flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood. I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth”. The story of the ‘Ark’ is about God’s power over the corrupting forces of sin; taking creation by storm and washing it clean in a primal act of God. Of all the wonders of creation and the multitude of human lives, only a relative handful will survive. The eight members of Noah’s family and the pairs of creatures will become like the loaves and fishes, multiplied again to fill the earth. God saves the faithful remnant, but the price is costly. Seen through the sign of the ark, the death of the old way leaves ruins in its wake, on its way to the rainbow.
God is not indifferent to what people do. He shows interest in the lives of all his children, and if they fall victim to their whims, instincts and passions, if they indulge in violence, hatred, and selfishness and evil against each other, he, the Father, must intervene, certainly not to destroy, but to create a new humankind. The flood is not a disaster caused by God; it is only the ‘symbol’ of the terrible devastation brought about by the sins of people. When God intervenes, it is always to ‘repair, to reconstruct and to renew’. Following the evil caused by sin, he renews humankind with a covenant, and says, “Never again shall all living things be destroyed”.
This ‘Noachian Covenant’ is a universal promise to all living creatures prior to their division by race, religion and language (Gen 11:4-9). By embracing all human and non-human life, the covenant is a mandate calling for a deep respect toward all people and care for our earth. God promises that the world will not be destroyed by water; however there is no assurance that human misuse will not bring this about.
This covenant is also the foundation of the particular covenants that will unfold and capture the marriage of universalism and particularism in biblical revelation: Abraham will be the father of many nations; Israel after Sinai is to be the light to the nations; Jesus will enact a new covenant that will benefit the whole of humanity.
Why does God make this covenant with his people? Note, that he does not say that he will not punish them provided they are well behaved and avoid sin; he promises without asking for anything in return. His blessing is unconditional, with no strings attached. His love for humankind is always gratuitous.
The Bible uses the very beautiful image of the rainbow to symbolize the re-established peace and love between heaven and earth, the loving embrace between God and his people. The rainbow is a sign of a covenant made between God and people. That covenant was made long before the one between God and the people of Israel, who were told to mark their male children by circumcising them. The rainbow symbolizes a universal covenant embracing all peoples and all created things.
In addition to the covenant with Noah, God made covenants with Abraham, with Moses and the Israelites and with David. In every case, the covenant was a gracious commitment on God’s part that established or strengthened the relationship with humankind.
Maybe we expected the liturgy of the first Sunday of Lent to speak of fasting, penance and sadness. Instead the passage we read is an invitation of joy, because it shows that the iniquity of people, however great, can never exceed the love of God.
The Psalm, the prayer of a person committed to God, acknowledges God’s mercy in forgiving sins and the grace of God that make a good life possible. It would have been a good prayer for Noah to pray during the flood and for Jesus to make during his temptations
1 Peter 3:18-22.
The original readers of 1 Peter were the poor and persecuted in a hostile world; they needed hope and encouragement. The author reminds them how Christ, though innocent, had suffered, died and has been raised to life again. He then added that Christ ‘preached to the spirits in prison.’ These spirits may have been the rebellious angels who provoked the wickedness that led to the flood (Gen 6:1-2). He says that Noah was saved not by his ark, but by the waters of the flood.
The ark that saves life becomes a symbol of what the sacrament of baptism does. The water of ‘Baptism’ is as much a symbol of destruction and death as it is a cleansing and purifying source of life. We go under the water as into the flooded earth, and we are drowned to sin and self-referencing ego. We have passed through the waters as through the tomb, and behold a new creation on the other side.
These waters prefigured the waters of Baptism that saves Christians, through Baptism, the Christian shares in the victory of Christ over every power in the universe, including those forces now persecuting the readers. What powers can these forces have compared to Christ, now in Glory at the right hand of God?
At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we read of the coming of the Spirit. John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit. At Jesus’ Baptism he sees the Spirit coming upon him. Afterwards he is led by the Spirit into the desert. This is a turning point for Jesus, as he gets ready to begin his life’s work, he must decide how he will carry it out.
In some way this sojourn in the desert resembles the journey that people make when they are trying to turn their lives around and make a fresh start. Some dramatic examples are quite familiar to us. People who suffer from alcoholism or other addictions go into treatment centres. They leave their homes, their families, their work, their friends and acquaintances. They submit to a routine of solitude, discipline and self-examination, where they face themselves, their temptations, their torments and their past. They emerge from this time of testing stronger and with a resolve to make a new beginning.
The ‘forty days’ that Jesus spent in the desert was a time of testing for him, too. The devil urged Jesus to use his power to wipe out his enemies and to tell the people what they wanted to hear and promise them whatever he had to do to get the people on his side. God was telling Jesus: take my love to them; win them over with love, even if you end up on the Cross. When Jesus makes his decision, he takes the first step in breaking the power of the devil and Jesus’ victory will be completed at his Death and Resurrection.
And what about us? At the beginning of this holy season of Lent, do we feel the need to make a fresh start? Or maybe just to take stock. It may not be possible for us to go out into the desert to meditate, but we can go out into the ‘desert of our inner selves’. We can begin anew by breaking the powers that keep us from being our best selves, the kind of persons God wants us to be. Jesus says, “This is the time of fulfilment. The ‘Kingdom of God’ is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus constitutes the final covenant between God and humankind. In the ‘Book of Life’, Jesus is the final chapter in the history of salvation.
Through our sharing in Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection, God links us to himself fully. The initiative of the Father makes us into new beings. We cannot deserve to be remade into the image of the ‘Risen Christ’. We can only respond to God’s overtures and God’s generosity and love. The sign of the covenant of Jesus is the Holy Eucharist. Jesus’ gift of his Body and Blood that is represented in the Eucharist expresses and strengthens our relationship with God. It constitutes, a ‘New and Everlasting Covenant,’ a relationship that will never wear out, a relationship that will never change. ‘I am with you always, until the end of time.’ (Mt 28:20).
The season of Lent reminds us of our need to begin again facing the enemy within us. And the Good News is, that when we do, we take the road that leads us to the Kingdom of God.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 1st Sunday of Lent Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … In creation, God called us to himself. Our responses were generally weak and not always faithful. Is our journey of faith developing into a full-time commitment, into a ‘loving relationship, a true covenant’ with our creator? Do we discuss our dreams and our fears, our successes and our failures with him? As practicing Christians, do we plan to spend the rest of our lives in family relationship with our Creator in complete togetherness, or will we be tempted to seek separation from God for the sake of an ill-founded love affair of worldly pleasures?
Mon. … God is not indifferent to what people do. God will always intervene when we fall victim to evil ways and passions. His intervention will not be based on punishment but on a call back to his loving presence. We, his children, are often called to intervene on God’s behalf, particularly when those we love and care for, fall by the way. Being part of the covenant and by virtue of our baptism we have a responsibility to those lost sheep in our community.
Tues. … The beautiful image of the rainbow symbolizes the re-establishment of love between God and all humanity. In God’s love we can always trust. What about our love? Can our love be trusted?
Wed. … The Psalm is based on a prayer of a person committed to God, acknowledging God’s mercy and forgiveness. In times of great trial and temptation, do we pray to our Father to keep us steadfast to his ‘will’ and his ‘way’? Like Jesus in the wilderness, our faith will be tested, not by God but lured and enticed by our own desires and passions.
Thurs. … Have our hearts allowed the Holy Spirit through the waters of ‘Baptism’ to drown our sin and destructive pride in the way we live our lives? The Church is our ‘Noah’s Ark’, it will carry us to ‘Spiritual Safety’ if we persevere and stay on board. During Lent our loving commitment to God enters a new and final stage when we become one in Christ through true repentance and the forgiving graces we receive in the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’. In this happy event, indeed the happiest of all events, we will be welcomed back home by the loving embrace of the Father’s open arms.
Frid. … At the beginning of this holy season of Lent, let the Holy Spirit lead us out with Jesus into the ‘desert of our inner selves’, and through prayer, fasting and detachments from material pleasures of this world, open up our hearts to God. For the next 40 days, let us begin again to face the enemy that is hidden within us.
Sat. … When Jesus made his decision to follow the will of God, despite all the alluring temptations of the devil, his victory was assured and was completed in his death and Resurrection. In a similar way our victory over ‘death’ will be by his grace, assured, when we accept totally the ‘will’ of the Father and the ‘way’ of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, Your Holy Scriptures tells us of the destruction of the world ruled by evil and the beginning of a new world. We pray that the flood-waters of our ‘Holy Baptism’ will through our faith, love and perseverance mark the birth of a new person in Christ.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.