1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1st Reading – Genesis 9:8-15

Thomas Green, an educator and spiritual director, says that ‘floating in the sea’ can be a kind of spiritual growth lesson.  Floating is difficult for most of us because “it demands much letting go.”  The secret of floating lies in being willing to take the risk and do the opposite of what comes instinctively.  We tend to keep ourselves rigid in the water, ready to save ourselves from the waves breaking around us.  As a result, we end up swamped by the waves.  Yet, if we relax and float, we are buoyed up by the rolling sea.  We learn to float when we relax and entrust ourselves to the water.  Similarly, people learn to pray and commune with God when they are willing to risk letting go in order to be at home in the sea that is God with no visible means of support except the constant buoyancy of God’s grace and presence.  The authors of the story of Noah were trying to teach us a similar lesson.  Noah’s contemporaries resisted God’s ways and refused to hear God’s voice; yet, Noah freely cast himself into the sea of God’s mercy and compassion.  With their faith and trust in God, they were saved.  It is a story of conversion – leaving behind the ‘old way of life’ and trusting God to help us float above the waters of chaos and come to safety. (Celebrations, March 2000)

Ancient people imagined their world completely surrounded on all sides — up, down, and around — by water.  Their world was flat with waters below, the source of springs.  A dome topped their world, holding back the waters above.  This is the firmament God creates on the second day in Genesis 1:6.  They feared floods the way we fear nuclear war or global warming — it is the ancient fear of extinction. The rainbow: ancient people thought this to be a divine ‘bow’ or weapon that gods could use against humans. But in this story the rainbow becomes a promise of love.  (Sunday by Sunday, March 9, 2003)

Flood stories were prevalent among ancient people.  The Noah story is very similar to the Babylonian Myth of Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh was searching for immortality. He consults one of his ancestors who had become immortal.  According to the story, the council of the gods had whimsically plotted to destroy humankind by flood. Ea, the god of wisdom, warned him to build a boat to save his family.  After the storm, the boat safely came to rest on a mountain; birds were sent forth to see if the waters had ceased.  Then sacrifices were offered to the gods who offered him immortality.  The Genesis authors adapted this flood story for their own use.  It featured the one and only God.  The flood was not the result of capriciousness, but viewed as punishment for sin.  Noah was granted a covenantal bond with God which would be life-giving.  (Celebrations, March 2003)

The ark is a symbol for a sanctuary and a haven.  The Hebrew word for ark (tebah) was also the word for the basket that carried baby Moses to safety (Exodus 2:3).  It was also the name for the tent that housed and carried the tablets of the Law, the visible presence of Yahweh and the covenant.  The ark became the symbol of God’s protection and salvation (fullness of health).  It is not surprising that Christians who had been Jews would see in this story a type of baptism.  The church became another ark — families clinging together with their faith in the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.  Here the waters become neither punishment nor cleansing.  They are a passage into a new life.  Note, also, that this story is not about God’s covenant with humanity alone.  It is about God’s covenant with all of creation.  (Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B)

2nd Reading –1 Peter 3: 18-22

This letter presents itself as being written by Peter who now regards himself as an elder in the church.  He is sending it from Rome to Christians in Asia Minor.  Tradition holds that Peter was martyred in Rome under the emperor Nero, that he was put to death by crucifixion, and specifically, that he was crucified upside down.  Scholars remain divided over the question of whether this letter is pseudepigraphical, but it is a reflection of “Petrine perspective” associated with Rome in the last third of the 1st century (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 464-466).

The readers of 1 Peter are Christians in process, or “under construction”.  A key word for such people is hope; the readers can look back on a futile and dubious past, and then they can look forward to an absolutely certain future, but the present is a time of “living hope” (p. 475).  Baptism, which is our spiritual coming to life, is our way of ritually participating in Jesus’ death.  As Christ died in the flesh and was made alive in the spirit, so converts likewise put off fleshly sins in baptism and live irreproachable lives through Jesus’ resurrection (Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 76).

The Gospel –Mark 1: 12-15:

We are back at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, right after Jesus’ Baptism. Mark’s story of Jesus’ desert-time is short and tense.  Here we see Jesus faced with a time of choosing

God says to Jesus:  “Take my love to humans. Conquer them by this love. Even if they crucify you, set up a Kingdom of Love.”

Satan says to Jesus: “Use your power to obliterate – to impress –to win by might and power.”

This is the temptation that Jesus will face time and time again:  What kind of a messiah am I to be?  How does God wish me to proclaim his Good News?  We are faced with similar questions.

“Repent and believe the Good News!” Mark summarizes for us Jesus’ person and purpose: God is among us. Believe that and live accordingly.  After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Drove is a harsh, forceful word.  Jesus has put himself completely at the power of the Spirit of God. Evil will confront him — in the desert, and in his ministry.  But on the cross, evil will be defeated..

Both floods and deserts are things hostile to life. Floods can strip us of everything, even the land to stand on. And yet, water, despite its chaos, is the promise of life. The desert has its own chaos and danger. Dreadful and waterless, empty and dry, one can only survive a desert if one traverses it. To stop is to succumb to death. The Hebrew people learned in the 40-year desert journey that God was their only security and guide. Jesus now spends 40 days in the desert of radical dependency. The will of God will be his only nourishment. We, too, are invited to ponder this journey: what is it all for?  Lent invites us to enter the water – to walk the desert. God incarnate invites us. And, he himself walks all the deserts of our lives to be the path through exile serving as food and drink along the way.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,”  http://liurgy.slu.edu)

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