1st Sunday of Lent, Year B.
Genesis 9:8-15 – 1Peter 3:18-22 – Mark 1:12-15.
Lent is a 40-day period of penitence and revival, a time set aside specifically for reviewing and renewing our covenant with God. We are called upon to fast, to give alms as generously as our pockets permit, and to pray and ponder the Scriptures more intensely than we usually do. It’s a time that reminds us that, despite our frailties, we have the assurance of God’s continual care for us and of His resolution never to reject us when we call upon Him. This assurance of the overwhelming goodness of God in the face of the ‘outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is so much offended’ (as the Fatima prayer of the Angel states) and of His unending mercy towards us when we repent, is immensely comforting. His Will is to restore us to our original state of purity and holiness (without sin) in which He created us. He also shows us ways in which we can and should imitate Him in order to overcome those temptations that lure us away from Him.
The First Reading features the story of the Flood, the story of the cleansing of the earth of people mired in sin, the salvation of those who placed their trust in God and did His will, and the re-creation of the earth thereafter through those saved in the Ark. (‘The Ark’ – Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, and Our Lady when She was carrying the Son of God – refers to the comforting presence of God.) After the Flood, God established a new covenant with mankind, a covenant about a new creation: there shall be no flood to destroy the earth again (v.11). And, as St. Peter says in the Second Reading, just as Noah and his family were saved by the ark from the waters of the flood, we today are saved by the waters of baptism. In the sacrament of Baptism, water is a means of divine regeneration, recreation and purification. The spiritual dimension of the new covenant God made with us after the Flood involves recreation in the spirit, forgiveness of repented sin, and the assurance of His perpetual presence. God in His mercy and power has established with us a new covenant of peace, symbolized by the rainbow (v.14), in which repentant sinners are no longer overcome by sin, but are saved by grace. It was when humanity continued to struggle in sin that the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, became incarnate for us.
The God-Man knew exactly why He became incarnate: He undertook the mission to redeem us because we were at the mercy of the devil and could not save ourselves from sin and death. He fulfilled the mission through the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. After the best brains of mankind have wrestled with these truths for 2000 years in an effort to prove them false and have failed, we can confident that our belief is not misplaced. Jesus emerged from the wilderness after the temptations with the call to us to repent and believe in the Good News (Mk 1:15). Repentance is a call to reconciliation with God. When we place our full trust in God and strive assiduously to know His will, then we can be sure of His help in overcoming the temptations that plague us.
It was through succumbing to temptation to take and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9; 3:3) that our spiritual parents lost Eden. A state of enmity was set up between the tempter (the serpent, Satan) and humanity, and mankind was condemned to die (Gen 3:19), to return to the dust from which we were made. Jesus did not succumb to the three major temptations set before him by the devil. The temptations of (1) the things of the flesh, (2) the things of the world, and (3) the cardinal sin of Pride in one’s God-given gifts, are presented in the order in which the soul suffers when progressing spiritually. Jesus was made like us in every respect (Heb 2:17), enduring temptation and suffering, to help us when we are tempted (Heb 2:18).
During Lent, a 40-day annual journey into the spiritual wilderness, we draw strength and courage from Our Lord’s victory over temptation. In ‘The Screwtape Letters’, C S Lewis observes that the devil knows we are at our weakest when we are just on the point of overcoming a temptation. We are to keep on and on struggling and striving to overcome temptation when we feel it most keenly, because it is then that the finishing tape is not far off and we are just about to win!
Since Ash Wednesday we, like Jesus, have started our 40 days of physical and spiritual preparation in the wilderness. His experience was prefigured by that of Moses, who spent 40 days in the shekinah of the Lord on the Mountain of YHWH (identified as Mount Sinai in Ex 24:18 and as Mount Horeb in Deut 5:2) , and of Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Ki 19:8). Those Israelites who wouldn’t listen to God wandered aimlessly in the wilderness for 40 years. It was their children who finally made it to the Promised Land (Josh 5:6), while those who rebelled against God and worshipped the golden calf never made it. This Lenten period of 40 days should be for us a fruitful time spent with and for God: a time of contrition, of purgation and of preparation for glory. May this Lent prove to be a fruitful season for each and every one of us. Amen. God bless you.