This weekend the Church celebrates the First Sunday of Lent. The liturgical season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and runs almost until Easter. Actually, Lent ends on Holy Thursday evening and is followed by the Triduum (a three day celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus). Lent has a two fold character. It serves as a time for the immediate preparation of the catechumens and candidates who will enter the church at the Easter Vigil when they celebrate the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist). It also serves as a time for the rest of us to prepare ourselves, by penance, to celebrate the Paschal Mystery and the renewal of our own baptismal promises at Easter. This double character actually speaks of two ways to describe the same journey. All of us, whether new catechumen or long time believer, are constantly being called to more complete conversion. God always calls us to approach Him more closely. During this time, the church invites us to spend time with Jesus, John the Baptist and the ancient prophets of Israel in the wilderness, listening to this call from God and reflecting on the mystery of redemption through the cross and resurrection of Jesus and on what it means for us today. During Year B of the Liturgical Cycle, the general theme of the Lenten readings is “Spirit,” in that Jesus leads us from the slavery of the flesh to freedom under the Spirit.
First Reading: Genesis 9: 8-15
8 God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you: all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with you and came out of the ark. 11 I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” 12 God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: 13 I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 9:8-15 Covenants in the ancient world involved an exchange of promises between two parties which was ratified by animal sacrifice and the invocation of a god to act as a witness. Here God makes a unilateral covenant with Noah. God takes on obligations to care for the earth but lays no requirements on Noah or his descendants to do anything. Israel saw in the rainbow, a link between the present and God’s ancient promise of unconditional love and care. The early church saw it as a precursor of the baptismal covenant that we have in Christ.
* 9:9-10 Here God makes essentially the same promise that He made to Noah in 6:18 but now it is extended to all living creatures. Noah’s free acceptance of the covenant is presupposed.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. 19 In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, 20 who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. 21 This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 3:18 This verse begins the section which ends in 4:6 and forms the climax of the letter. It stresses that Christ is the basis for the confidence of Christians. This verse does not refer to the contrast between body and soul but rather to the two spheres of Christ’s existence: earthly human life and as life as Risen Lord.
* 3:19 In the New Testament, “spirits” used without a qualifying phrase means “supernatural beings” not “human souls.” In 1 Enoch, a nonbiblical book which was very popular during the early Christian years, the story is told of Enoch who went on a mission from God to announce to the rebellious angels that they were condemned to prison. In a later development of the story, Enoch passes through the heavens and meets the rebellious angels. In this tradition, the rebellion of the angels is expressly linked with the flood. In 1 Peter 3:19, this story is applied to the Risen Christ.
* 3:20 Later Jewish tradition fashioned an elaborate story out of the obscure statements in Gen 6:1-2. The “sons of God” were the angels who sinned with human women and were responsible for the moral corruption of humanity that led to the flood. This is actually another version of the original sin story (Gen 3:1-24) where evil enters the world through the rebellious angels rather than through a man misled by a serpent. Noah preached to the sinful men of his time with hope that they might repent. The number eight (persons) is a symbol of the resurrection (eighth day).
* 3:21 The waters of baptism are seen as a counterpart to the waters of the flood. The language used here actually fits better in terms of circumcision rather than baptism. Since the church of Rome was probably founded from Jerusalem this language is likely to be the result of a catechesis on baptism that was based on a comparison of circumcision and baptism.
Appeal to God could also be translated “pledge,” that is, a promise on the part of Christians to live with a good conscience before God, or a pledge from God of forgiveness and therefore a good conscience for us.
* 3:22 In Jesus, all believers now share in this victory over all hostile spirits (Phil 2:10; 1 Cor 15:24,27; Eph 1:21; 6:2; Col 2:10, 15).
Gospel Reading: Mark 1: 12–15
12 At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, 13 and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 1:12 Mark says Jesus was “driven” into the desert by the Spirit while Matthew and Luke say he was “led”. See Mat 4:1 and Luke 4:1.
* 1:13 Forty is usually used as a symbolic number in the Bible meaning as many or as much as is necessary. Here it was for as long as was needed to accomplish the purposes of God. Mark gives no details of the encounter between Jesus and the Devil. This first confrontation serves to help portray the whole of Jesus’ ministry as a fight against evil. Wild beasts carry two ideas into the story: The wilderness was considered the abode of wild animals and of demons. The presence of the animals also echoes the harmony of the creation story which the obedience of Jesus will restore after the disobedience of Adam lost it. The angels who ministered are a reflection of the angel of the first Exodus (Exodus 14:19 and 23:20).
* 1:14 In Jesus, the Kingdom of God is near and that is the Good News. The Rule of God is described in Ps 97:1-12; 98:1-9; 99:1- 9
* 1:15 Fulfilled expresses the continuity between the stages of God’s plan. The Kingdom of God is present when the will of God is done. In Jesus, the will of God is lived out perfectly and so in Him the Kingdom was always present perfectly. </font