FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
First Reading: Genesis 9:8–15
Psalm: Psalm 25:4–9
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18–22
Gospel: Mark 1:12–15
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
Reading the Word
God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
1 Peter 3:18–22
Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Hearing the Word
“God is in Control”
The liturgy of the word at the start of the Lenten season puts forth a fundamental assertion of faith, that God is in complete control of the world and history. In spite of human sinfulness and wickedness which goes contrary to his intentions and plans, God in his wisdom guides the people towards final salvation. In the end, noting can stand in the way of God’ redeeming grace and salvific love.
The first reading from the book of Genesis describes God’s unconditional covenant with Noah. This covenant comes after the tragic story of the flood which almost put an end to all life. This disaster was caused by human wickedness and led to the reversion of creation into chaos, thus undoing the order God established at the very beginning of history. Evil found its way into the peoples’ hearts to such an extent that God regretted creating humanity altogether (Gen 6:5). Yet, in the midst of this tragedy, God still maintained his gracious and unconditional commitment to the human family and to the whole of creation. By choosing the righteous Noah and giving him a promise to sustain life, God ensured the restoration of the cosmic order, and made a solemn promise, a covenant, that life will not be ended, no matter how wicked humanity might become.
The promise or covenant with Noah created a profound bond between God and his creation, a bond which will shape the future of all subsequent generations. The sign of this unmerited grace would be the rainbow in the clouds – the symbol of the link between heaven and earth. Or of God’s grace descending on the broken world.
Today’s reading affirms that God does not withdraw his promised, does not give up on his people, and does not revoke his plans and purposes for humanity and creation. When human wickedness undermined God’s handiwork, he still found a way and means to continue with his divine plan for harmony and life. Nothing can frustrate or alter what God designed and decided, which is truly good news for humanity struggling with its brokenness and wickedness.
In the second reading, the author of 1 Peter assures the afflicted Christians about God’s presence and care, even as they face persecutions and dangers. The author intended to help the faithful to understand the deeper meaning of their anguish in the light of the suffering of Christ. Making use of ancient baptismal formula, the author likened the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism. However, unlike the destructive waters of the flood, the water of baptism has saving power. As Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the flood because of Noah’s obedience to God’s word, so also the Christian believers are saved through the waters of Baptism which they accept because of their faith.
The author of the letter wrote addressing the persecuted Christians faced with a hard choice – either to give up their faith and return to their former pagan and evil ways, or face suffering for doing good. He encourages them to opt for faith, regardless the cost. To motivate the believers to choose good, he presents them with the portrait of the suffering Christ, so that they may realize that God who raised Jesus from the dead has the last word in their history and life. Like Jesus, they too can bear witness to faith in their suffering, knowing that suffering for doing good, leads to eternal life together with the Risen Lord. With these words and images, the author encourages the suffering Christians not to give up, but to hold fast to their faith which they received and then confirmed in baptism. Despite trials and tribulations, God never abandons them, as he did not abandon his Son suffering at the hands of the wicked. Because of God’s unwavering, support Jesus emerged victorious over cruelty, evil, death. God overcame the power of death in Jesus, which demonstrates that he is in charge of human destiny, and even death cannot alter or challenge this.
In the Gospel reading, Mark the evangelist presents the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which Jesus faced immediately after his baptism and on the onset of his public ministry. With his typical brevity, Mark emphasizes that God was with Jesus through this trial. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not mention that Jesus resisted three temptations by citing the words of Scriptures to fight off the tempter who attempted to detract Jesus from his unreserved commitment to carrying out God’s will. Instead, Mark reports that Jesus was surrounded by the wild beasts, wrestling with the power of Satan in the wilderness.
The wilderness in the Bible is a rich and complex symbol, with both positive and negative connotations. It is a place of deprivation, the site of danger and death, rebellion, punishment, temptation, and a dwelling place of evil spirits. However, the wilderness is also a place of deliverance, where God works miracles and reveals his will through the making of the covenant and the giving of the commandments. Several biblical characters experienced the wilderness as a place of refuge and safety, while others were driven from their homes into the wilderness because of their witness and prophetic message. Overall, the desert is a place where a person confronts their fears and desires, and must decide whether to put his or her life in the service of God or turn away from him.
Jesus faced Satan in the wilderness, but he was not alone. The wild beasts who were with him represent God’s creation, while the angels serving him represent God care and support for his Son. Jesus faced his opponent with the power of God working through creation and through his angelic servants. Mark does not explicitly say that Jesus resisted the temptations. However, it is clear that he prevailed over the tempter as in the very next verses of the Gospel Jesus initiates his messianic ministry with the proclamation of the arrival of God’s kingdom and a call to repentance and faith. God was with his Son when he was making his choices in the desert, and God sustained him so that he might carry out God’s salvific work in the people.
The liturgy of this first Sunday of Lent proclaims that God is with his people, protecting them, and guiding them towards salvation. The rainbow in the sky testifies to God’s sovereignty over life and creation, which even human wickedness could not destroy. Baptism reveals the power of God at work in guiding the faithful towards their eternal destiny. Suffering and persecutions cannot frustrate this divine salvific intent. Through Jesus’ messianic mission, God’s kingdom descended into the midst of humanity. Even Satan himself was powerless to prevent that because it was God himself who sustained Jesus in the face of the enemy. Embarking on the Lenten journey believers are thus given firm reassurance about God’s guiding hand and power supporting them, as they face their own “desert” choices and trials. With the Psalmist, believers ought to pray throughout this time, “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation, for you I wait all day long.”
Listening to the Word of God
Today we begin the season of Lent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter, the central and most important season in the Church’s calendar. Today’s readings help us to realize that God governs the world and oversees each person’s life. In this context, the Church gives us the Lenten period to examine our Christian living, to see whether we allow our lives to be directed by God’s will, and whether we consciously and willingly place ourselves under God’s guidance.
First, to place ourselves under God’s power, we need to recognize that all we are, and have, results from God’s grace. The first reading shows us God taking the initiative to enter into the covenant with Noah. This covenant ensures that life can continue. Indeed, this is the very foundation for our life. We have life because of God’s grace.
Second, today’s liturgy reminds us that our faith and commitment to God will be challenged by circumstances and forces beyond our control, but God will stand with us in our trials. The second reading shows how our baptism is a sign of our covenant with God. At baptism, we entered into a covenantal relationship with God and became his children destined for salvation. However, this relationship attained at baptism is only the beginning of our journey with God. Our faith is still subject to daily tests and challenges, and we will be tempted to give up. The words from the letter of Peter exhort us to hold fast to our faith, and emphasize that God is with us through these trials, just as he was with Jesus during his desert temptations.
Finally, we are called to awareness that being in the covenant with God demands our active response. As Christians we remain frail and weak even after baptism. Through baptism we receive the graces that enable us to begin a journey towards our full salvation. But we journey in company with others. On this journey we sometimes miss the mark and stray from God’s paths, damaging our relationship with others. The time of Lent is a time for the renewal of any relationships with our fellow pilgrims which have become strained. On some occasions we yield to pride, sinful inclinations, and temptations to use others for our own benefit. Through such mistreatment we damage others and make their lives more difficult. Lent calls for examination of our relationship with our neighbors – wife, children, relatives, friends, and work mates – with anybody we influence and upon whom we have an impact. Are we helping them to walk in God’s ways, or is our presence and behavior an obstacle and hindrance in their journey of Christian life?
Beginning the season of Lent, we are guided to reflect on our life lived under God’s authority, God’s covenant. This means allowing God to be in control of our lives, by trusting in his closeness, and relating to our fellow pilgrims, following the way as taught by Jesus. Let our Lenten season be a time of renewal, of re-placing ourselves under God’s authority, and helping others to do the same.
“Where God is, even a bull can produce twins.”
Do I hold fast to my faith when faced with challenges? Do I come to God’s presence when challenged? How?
Am I helping others to walk in God’s ways? Or is my presence and behavior an obstacle and hindrance to them in their journey of Christian life?
Response to God
During the entire Lenten season I will begin each day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the covenant God made with me, the covenant shown in giving me life for yet another day. I will make this prayer like a rainbow overarching all that I do this day.
Response to your World
I will set a day of fasting and prayer for each week in this Lenten period. I will devote it to reflection and prayer focused on the strengthening of my relationship to God in time of trials and temptations.
As a group, we shall organize a renewal seminar, and discuss the relationships within our group, with the focus on defining how we can help one another to face challenges and temptations. This will be followed by a penitential service for our members and others willing to join.
God of mercy and compassion, look with favor on us as we begin this Lenten season. Grant us, we beseech you, the grace to recognise your enduring presence even in moments when our faith is put to the test. Give us the strength to overcome all that seeks to draw us away from you. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.