Sunday, February 21, 2021, First Sunday of Lent
A Fresh Start with a Clean Slate
First Reading Commentary: Genesis 9:1-15
The rainbow is a beautiful thing to behold. Most of us will drop whatever we are doing to take in the splendor of a rainbow with complete awe. It is a spectacular sign of God’s awesome power. Even if we only give the rainbow a moment of our attention and even if we are totally non-religious, we are amazed at the beauty of a rainbow.
But the rainbow is much more than something for our eyes to enjoy. It is God’s physical sign of the covenant that He made to Noah and all of mankind and all living things. The rainbow is God’s seal on the contract. So why did God make this covenant? Because of His compassionate love for mankind and also to give the earth and all living things on earth a new beginning.
In Genesis 8:21, God said, “Never again will I doom the earth because of man since the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start; nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done.” You could say that God was sorry for what He had done by flooding the earth and that His covenant was His way of repenting. But saying that God was repenting would suggest that God did something wrong by punishing the earth for its wrongdoing.
Don’t get it twisted. God is never wrong for anything that He says or does and woe to whoever thinks that God can be wrong or do something bad or do something with ill intent! Why God flooded the earth is a whole different commentary but think of it as a father punishing a child.
In Genesis 8:20, Noah built an altar and choosing from every clean animal and bird, he offered holocausts to God. It is Noah who repented and in so doing, he gave glory and honor to God with gratitude because every living creature on the ark had been saved and the earth had been restored. With his offering, Noah repented on behalf of the entire world and God accepted Noah’s offering by making a covenant.
But let’s take a closer look at what God said in Genesis 8:21. “…the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start…” Does that mean that we are born evil? Does that mean that man has been evil by nature from the moment of creation? Not possible because God made us in His image and likeness and God told Noah that in Genesis 9:6.
Man is inherently good by nature because man is created in the image of God. It is the corruption of sin beginning with Adam and Eve that makes us evil from the start. We are born with original sin and we are all weak and vulnerable to the temptations of sin. We all commit sins.
Knowing this, God gives us every opportunity to repent and His mercy and forgiveness are without limit because of His compassionate love for us. Every time that God grants us His mercy and forgiveness, we are given a new beginning. That is exactly what God gave to Noah at the beginning of His covenant in Genesis 9:1-7.
Notice that twice, God told Noah to be fertile and multiply. God gave all of mankind and all living creatures a new beginning and a fresh start with a clean slate. When we are so blessed by God, it is like no wrongdoing ever happened. That, by the way, is what makes the Sacrament of Confession worth it.
Get on the Ark
Second Reading Commentary: 1 Peter 3:18-22
I want to focus on one part of today’s reading from Peter’s first letter. Peter said, “God patiently waited in the days of Noah…in which a few persons…were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.”
God used water to flood the earth destroying the evil of the earth. It was the same water that purified the earth, made it possible for man and all other living creatures to repopulate the earth giving life a new beginning and water is necessary for sustaining all life.
The same thing happens to us with baptism as the waters of baptism wash away original sin giving us a new beginning in life. Not our physical life but our spiritual life and it, is our spiritual life that is the one that we should be most concerned about. That is the life that we do not want to loose by being doomed forever in hell.
Peter said that baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience. We know that the Holy Spirit descends upon us at baptism and dwells within us residing within our conscience. Therefore, when we choose to be baptized or someone else chooses baptism for us when we are infants or too young to make decisions, we are appealing to God that He, send His Spirit to live within us.
But baptism is just the first step in making all things new for us. The new beginning will be complete on the last day when everyone who chooses to be with God, will be. It will be on that day that eternal life will begin for all of us and that will be the total fulfillment of the Son coming to make all things new.
Those of us who listen to the Spirit within us and follow the Son will be just like Noah and the others who were on the ark. And when the flood is over, we will be with the Father in heaven.
Stand Up with an Attitude
Gospel Commentary: Mark 1:12-15
Today, we hear Mark’s account of Jesus in the desert however, Matthew and Luke both give a much more detailed account. Refer to Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. This commentary puts the three Gospels together.
Jesus was led to the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil and spent forty days in the desert. The forty days of Jesus in the desert was a reliving of the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert but where the Israelites fell into sin; Jesus did not. The Israelites grumbled and they were disobedient to God’s Law. Jesus was the exact opposite and it is the obedience of Jesus to the Father that brings forth the true Promised Land of heaven.
In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us that while in the desert, Jesus was among wild beasts and that the angels ministered to Him. From this we know that the combined forces of good and evil were at work but Jesus was not alone. Mark’s reminding us that Jesus was not alone in the desert should also remind us that we are not alone in our journey here on earth. Jesus made a promise at the end of Matthew’s Gospel when He said, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
The forty days of Lent are also a reminder of the forty days of fasting that Jesus spent in the desert. Imagine yourself going through forty days of fasting in a baron place like the desert. Imagine how hungry you would be and how strong your urge would be to satisfy your physical desires. Now take that urge and multiply it by the total number of mankind; past, present and future. This is how strong the urge was for Jesus because everything that Jesus did was for the salvation of all mankind.
Matthew and Luke tell us that the devil tempted Jesus three times taking full advantage of His physical state. When we reflect on Jesus in the desert, we must remember once again, that Jesus was one hundred percent divine but He was also one hundred percent human. It was the humanity of Jesus that the devil tempted thinking that in His humanity, Jesus might be weak.
In his first temptation, the devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” But Jesus replied, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
How often, we have heard that line. But we don’t always stop to think about what Jesus really said. Nothing of this world is worth anything to our survival and our life in heaven because this life on earth does not begin to compare to our life in heaven. This life is only temporary and unimportant but our life in heaven is eternal.
There is also an undertone to what Jesus said. Jesus was calling the devil a liar and testifying to the truth of the Father. Jesus could have just as well said, “Shut up you liar! Only my Father speaks the truth!” That is attitude that you have to love.
Then the devil tempted Jesus a second time by making Him stand on the parapet of the temple in the holy city and told Jesus to throw Himself down because it was written that if He was the Son of God, the angels would come to save Him. But Jesus replied, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
I laugh whenever I read this second temptation. Not only does Jesus cite that testing God is in violation to His law, Jesus also shows more attitude. It’s as though Jesus was saying, “You idiot. Don’t you know who you are talking to?”
So, the devil moves on to his third temptation. He took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him the magnificence of all of the world’s kingdoms and offered them to Jesus if He would prostrate Himself and worship the devil. This time, the devil really got told off as Jesus said, “Get away, Satan…The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
It was not enough for Jesus to simply say, “I will not worship you.” Jesus basically said, “You must be crazy! Just who do you think you are? You are nothing…a complete nobody and not worth my time. You cannot give Me that which I have already made in the first place. Go back to where you came from and don’t bother me.” I could have used more eloquent street language here but this is a spiritual commentary and it is Jesus talking so I will keep my language clean. But make no mistake about it, the devil got told off.
Now that is real attitude. It is the kind of attitude that Jesus wants us to have when we are confronted by the devil. It is the kind of attitude that the devil cannot stand. And with this attitude, we can and will always stand up to the devil because the strength of the Spirit will not allow us to fall.
If the devil is bold enough to tempt Jesus, he will not stop tempting us. But in this Gospel, we see the war between good and evil played out. We see that good is more powerful than evil. We see that evil does not win against good.
This is the first time in the Gospels that we hear Jesus tell the devil to get away and when Jesus tells the devil to get away, the devil does just that. So, when the devil stands before us with his temptations, all we have to do is say with conviction and with the same attitude as Jesus, “In the name of Jesus, get behind me Satan.” And should the devil persist, don't give up. Do as Jesus tells us to do, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” If we do, Jesus will bring on the Spirit and lay the devil out sending him running with his tail between his legs.
That is the single best thing that can be done for any of us in this life. The best thing that can be done for us when this life ends is for Jesus to give us a big hug and welcome us home just like the father did with the Prodigal Son. Luke:15