Readings: 1st- Gen. 9:8-15; 2nd- 1 Pet. 3:18-22; Gospel- Mk. 1:12-15
The images in today’s readings remind us of God’s commitment to humanity, “never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of the flood.” (Gen. 9:11) If there’s a time that God regrets His actions, especially punishment for humanity, I think it’s at the incident of the Deluge. The post-flood narrative shows that, but it ushers newness, restoration and cleansing. A covenant relationship begins between God and man. Noah, survives the great flood and starts this new world order. God promises, “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you.” In the Old Testament, we see different covenants initiated by God too: with Abraham (Gen. 17: 1-14) and with Moses (Ex. 19-24), each reminding us of God’s fidelity as our Father. In the covenant with Noah, the sign is strongly evident by the rainbow, “I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Noah’s emergence from the flood has a great lesson for us. He comes out purified from the flood. Through Noah’s experience, he enters into a relationship which looks to the future. The deluge does not just happen, rather it is as a result of sin, “God saw that human wickedness was great on earth and that human hearts contrived nothing but wicked schemes all day long” (Gen. 6:5). Before the Flood, no one listened to God’s warning. No one paid attention to the invitation to turn from evil. As a result, God initiates a cleansing which as Peter states, “God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark.” Noah spends 40 days/nights in the ark undergoing purification. The end of the experience thereby marks a new beginning for Noah and for the entire humanity. What exactly is the implication of Noah’s experience? Peter captures it this way, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now” (3:21).
The gospel speaks about the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Christ is driven into the desert by the Spirit to prepare him for the mission, and he remains for forty days in the desert doing battle with Satan. Christ overcomes Satan as “the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 9:15). In this new covenant, God invites his people to commit to His love in Christ. Scripture says:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Heb. 8:7-10)
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, the beginning of a forty days’ spiritual journey. The church invites us to reflect on the meaning of our baptism when we’re immersed in the waters. We emerge from the waters cleansed of sin. At baptism, we enter into a covenant with God through our vows. But rarely do we stick to our promises of living in righteousness. Yet, God shows mercy. He remains faithful to his promises not to destroy humanity again. This, somewhat, answers some of the questions about the existence of evil in the world about the existence of evil. Why does God let bad people survive and thrive? Why is he silent to evil deeds? The answer is that God does not want humanity or any of his creatures destroyed. He is truth to His covenant.
Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s kingdom and makes that kingdom present in our time. In Him we are called to new life of freedom from sin “that he might lead us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). For that reason, Christ preaches the message of repentance, offering us opportunity to embrace God with our whole heart. The sign of the covenant with Christ is the Cross, the “rainbow” of victory and salvation, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (Jn. 12:32).
Lent invites us on a pilgrimage in a special way. We fast, give alms, and pray with greater intensity. Can these acts help us to shun evil and embrace goodness? Won’t it be nice if we fast from hateful speeches and disparaging words to one another? Won’t it be great if we fast from being malicious and hateful? Won’t it be nice if we fast from being cold to those we meet, if we let people see beyond the face masks, if we are present with warm hearts? Won’t it be wonderful if we refrain from negative comments on social media? Won’t it be nice if we fast from looking at others as evil simply because they disagree with us? Won’t it be great if we stay committed to the truth about the dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death? Won’t it be amazing if we all fast from divisive thoughts, words, and actions at this time?
At the end of his own 40 days in the ark, Noah emerges a better human being full of energy and vigor. At the end of his 40 days in the desert, Christ emerges spiritually enriched to begin his public preaching. The invitation for us is to set measurable goals for ourselves as we begin Lent and see where we will be at the end of Lent. What do you look forward to as you embark on these forty days of spiritual pilgrimage. This is a new Lent, a new opportunity, a new moment for restoration and revival, not just another annual event in the church’s calendar.
Take time to think about your fast, your almsgiving, your prayer, and what fruits they produce. Do not let these 40 days go just like that. Do not let it pass and you’re the way you started. Let something change in you -your words, your responses, your generosity, your dedication (to family, marriage, children, friendship, and work) your commitment to caregiving, your attitude toward forgiveness, your approach to humility/service, your detachment from material possessions, your quest for power and control, your manner of listening and of being present, your desire for food and drink, your use of time, your manner towards other drivers on the road, your cheerfulness to colleagues at work, your disposition at grocery shops, etc. There’s so many aspects. God is inviting us into a covenant with our entire life. That way, we become God’s kingdom and to share it with others. That is the meaning and value of Lent.