First Sunday of Lent
The first reading, from the Book of Genesis, presents the familiar story of Noah. It is a study of contrast and of the consequences of this contrast. Noah was faithful, whereas his world almost universally was unfaithful.
God protected Noah from doom, to which the sinful world succumbed. Warned by God, Noah took his family and couples of the various animals onto the ark, or ship, that he constructed. As the floodwaters ebbed, the ark settled on dry land. With God’s help, all aboard Noah’s ark survived.
God assured Noah, and all people, that never again would a flood destroy the earth. God established a Covenant. Under this Covenant, or solemn agreement, the people would obey God’s law. In turn, God would protect them from peril.
It is the foundational story of all that would be revealed in the long history of salvation. Sin destroys, while God gives to the truly faithful life itself.
The second reading is from the Second Letter of Peter. It recalls the flood and Noah and notes the Covenant, which was God’s pledge. People ignore or altogether spurn God, but His promise and mercy endure. In this mercy came Christ Jesus. In Christ, if people are faithful, they can anticipate eternal life.
Christians, at the time, required encouragement. This letter provided such encouragement. Come what may, God protects the faithful, who in baptism and in holiness identify themselves with Jesus.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is brief, only a few verses, but its brevity gives it drama and directness in its message.
Use of the number “forty” is revealing, suggesting as it does the 40 days spent by Moses in the desert before God gave him the law on Sinai. Jesus is the bearer of God’s holy word, as was Moses. Jesus is concentrated on the task of serving God. He will bring hope and salvation.
In the Judaean desert, wild beasts were all about. They were not literary figments of this Gospel but a reality and are a reality yet today. Angels protected Jesus. Mark does not lose this chance to assert that Jesus is the Son of God.
At last, following John’s arrest and his removal from the role of prophet, the culmination of salvation awaited. Jesus stepped forward, proclaiming that God’s majesty will be seen. He called upon the people to repent. “The time of fulfillment” was at hand.
God would be vindicated. Jesus came to set everything in balance. The sinful were laid low. The good endured.
The Church has begun Lent, the most intense period in its year of calling its people to union with God. While Ash Wednesday was the first day of Lent, many Catholics will begin the Lenten process with this weekend’s Mass.
These readings call people to face the facts of life as humans, to separate good from evil and to recognize the products of good and evil, in the world and in themselves.
Regardless of the exact details of the flood described in Genesis and despite the quibbling in the name of science as to its date and place, the religious message of Noah and his ark is clear. It supplies a fitting beginning to reflections for Lent. Sin, the willful rejection of God, leads necessarily and always to destruction.
The message of Christ never ends with woe and despair. God offers eternal life and peace. For those who fail, God is forgiving and merciful so long as the wayward see their faults and ask for mercy.
Essential to asking for forgiveness is to acknowledge personal sin. We must delve deeply into our hearts and admit our faults. We must focus, be frank with ourselves and be stern in the process, as we now begin our 40 days of concentration upon salvation.
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