Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Will Establish My Covenant With You

Reading 1 Genesis 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
"See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
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.
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."

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:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
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."

Reading II 1 Peter 3:18-22

Christ 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.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison,
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.

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,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Gospel Mark 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."

Today’s First Reading from Genesis is the conclusion of the story of Noah and the Ark. It offers us an image of an almighty God, whose creation of the earth and all that is in it is founded in love, and who gives the people of the earth, Noah and all of his descendants, only one commandment: My dominion over you is founded in love. I brought you into being as an expression of my love. I sustain you out of love. I forgive your wrongdoing out of love. I invite you to abide forever in the world I have created for you. All I ask you in return is this: Love me with your whole heart, and your entire mind, and all your might; and love one another as I have first loved you.
In today’s Second Reading, Peter recalls God’s goodness in the days of Noah, how because of divine mercy, a few people were saved, eight in all, by floating in the ark upon the waters that covered the entire earth. He also reminds us that Jesus Christ, who was sinless, suffered in place of the sinful people of the earth. He even went down to the spirits who had been disobedient, to release them from the imprisonment they deserved because of their sins.

This, Peter reminds us, is an image of the waters of baptism, which is now the source of our salvation. In baptism, we are not bathed in water that cleanses our body from filth, or even from smudges and stains. The true purpose of baptism is to ask God to keep our minds and hearts (our conscience, to use the word Peter uses) clean and free from sin. The grace of God is not a right we earn by our good behavior, but a privilege granted by God’s love in creating us, won back for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus, who died to free us from the penalty due for our personal sins, and the sins of the whole world. That grace is confirmed in us by the action of the third Person of the Trinity, who through the Sacraments, especially of Baptism and Reconciliation, frees us from the penalty for our sins, strengthens our resolve to resist temptation, and inspires us to practice virtue, leading us to love God with all our heart, mind and might, and our neighbor as ourselves.

The Holy Spirit is also the first person mentioned in today’s gospel. Why did Jesus go out into the desert? You might think it was “the devil made him do it”, but no, it was the Spirit who “drove Jesus out into the desert, where he remained for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. Today, on the First Sunday of Lent in Year B of the three-year cycle, we read the gospel of the temptation of Jesus according to Mark, which is, typically, the reader’s digest version of the gospel.

Matthew’s gospel includes the details of the story of Jesus’ temptations, which I’m not about to mention in detail, but simply remind you that there were three specific temptations: Jesus was hungry, after fasting for forty days and nights, and the devil tempted him to change rocks into loaves of bread, to relieve his hunger. Then the devil brought him to the parapet of the Temple, and tempted him to throw himself down, “If you are the Son of God, He will send his angels to save you.” Finally, the devil brought him to a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world, which (he said) belonged to him. He promised Jesus the wealth of all those kingdoms, if only Jesus would worship him.

Jesus, who is the Son of God, and the eternally begotten of the Father, was not about to succumb to the wiles and snares of the devil, but this longer version of the Temptation Gospel reminds us that we are all subject to the same forms of temptation as Jesus was tested with: pleasure, power, and profit. The desire for pleasure can lead us to act unjustly toward others, for instance, other people’s spouses. The desire for power can lead us to act unjustly toward other people – for instance, people whom we supervise at work – or those we represent in government, whether in the city, county, state or nation. The desire of profit can lead us to act unjustly toward other people – for instance, those who depend on loans from our financial institutions, who are denied when we spend hundreds of dollars on dressers, cabinets, bathtubs and water closets in our executive suites.

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