The Cycle B readings of Lent have a strong emphasis on the covenant and renewal of the covenant between God and his people. This covenant theme is particularly evident in several of the first readings. During this Lenten season, God is calling us to renew and deepen our covenantal relationship with him.
In this week’s first reading, God makes a covenant with all of creation promising never to destroy it again as he did in the Great Flood. In the second reading, Peter sees the cleansing water of the Flood as a prefigurement of the cleansing waters of baptism. In the Gospel, we encounter Jesus out in the desert fighting the powers of evil. The readings can also be seen in the context of how we live our lives in the midst of conflict. In the first reading, people are dealing with the conflict that follows a natural disaster. The second reading focuses on the spiritual conflict between right and wrong. The Gospel has Jesus in conflict with Satan.
FIRST READING: Genesis 9:8-15
These verses recount for us the covenant God entered into with Noah, his descendants, and all living creatures after the Flood. What is unique about this covenant with Noah is its universal character. Unlike conventional treaties between tribes or nations, God’s covenant with Noah extends to every living creature. It is a covenant between God and the whole earth. In the covenant, God promises that never again will unruly waters destroy the world and its inhabitants. Like the forty days of Lent, forty days of deluge rains are required to cleanse the earth of its sin and rebellion against God. In and through the Ark, God protects a few faithful people and reproductive pairs of every kind of animal. The rainbow in the sky is intended to be a visible sign of the covenant between God and humanity. It is also a sign of God’s presence and serves as a reminder to the people of their responsibilities before God.
SECOND READING: 1Peter 3:18-22
This reading may have been part of an instruction on baptism in the Early Church. The key point of the instruction reminds us of the efficacy of Christ’s suffering and death. Through his death and Resurrection, all have access to God. The reference to Christ preaching to the “spirits in prison” has baffled biblical scholars for years. No one is clear as to who these “spirits” might be. The gist of the verse is that Christ’s saving work extends to all, even to those beyond the confines of this life.
The author then goes on to contrast the waters of the Flood to the waters of baptism. (Both the New Testament writers and the Early Church Fathers looked to the Old Testament for hidden signs and symbols that foreshadowed and prepared the way for events and teachings in the life of Christ and his Church.) Just as Noah saved others from the devastating waters of the Flood, so Christ saves us from the ultimate destruction of separation from God. Peter then insists that baptism is not just some external cleansing. Rather, it brings about an inner transformation making us like Christ. Remember the old definition of a sacrament? It is an outward sign (in Baptism, this is water) signifying an inner reality (in Baptism, it is cleansing the soul of sin and filling it with the grace or the life of Christ).
GOSPEL: Mark 1:12-15
Each year, the Gospel of the first Sunday in Lent has Jesus led by the Spirit into the desert to confront the powers of darkness and to prepare Jesus for his public ministry. The desert is a place of testing for Jesus’ ancestors. In the desert, the Israelites fail to remain faithful to God. In contrast, Jesus is faithful.
The reference to “wild beasts” is intended to communicate the savage nature of the temptations. “Angels ministering” to Jesus is a reminder of how the angel has visited Elijah in his time of trial, bringing him bread and water. It is possible that Mark is seeking to convey to his community that in time of trial and testing, Jesus will also be present to sustain them.
After his time in the desert, Jesus begins his public ministry of preaching the good news of God’s unconditional love, the good news of God’s presence with us in times of darkness and suffering. Jesus also preaches a message of repentance; a call to change, in the most radical of ways, one’s vision of life; a call to make God and his values the center of one’s life.
Mark, unlike Luke and Matthew, does not outline for us the three temptations of Jesus. For Mark, Jesus’ conflict with Satan only begins in the desert. The conflict will continue when Jesus meets individuals who are possessed. Satan is seen as the “strong man” whom Jesus will bind.
In the second reading, Peter speaks of baptism. What does being a baptized Catholic mean to you? Do you know the date of your Baptism?