Lent is a forty-day period of fast and abstinence before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday when we go into Easter. Sundays are not counted as part of these forty days, since Sundays commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord.
While Lent means the spring season, it translates the Latin term “quadragesima” which means “forty days” or literally the “fortieth day”. The forty day period is symbolic of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, a detail mentioned by all the synoptic gospels. “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert" (CCC 540). This is why, in all three years, the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Lent is about the temptations of Jesus in the desert during the time that he spent there.
While Matthew and Luke narrate the three temptations in the desert and the responses that Jesus makes to the devil’s temptations, Mark does not do so. His focus is different. Mark’s narrative of the temptations compares Jesus, who is faithful, with unfaithful Israel. Jesus overcame temptation even after being tested for forty days, but Israel succumbed to temptation during their forty year period of testing in the desert. He also compares Jesus, the new Adam who is at home with wild beasts, with the first Adam with whom the wild beasts and nature were at enmity after his sin. The overcoming of the temptations by Jesus leads to the wilderness being transformed into paradise, the desert being transformed into an oasis and, humans being no longer subject to Satan or his rule. However, the overcoming of temptation, which is explicated by the mention of the angels ministering to Jesus, is only one part of the story. The second part, which may termed as the positive overcoming of temptation, is integral to the story and completes it.
Soon after overcoming temptation, Jesus comes into Galilee to proclaim his experience of who God really is. Mark prepares for this revolutionary and radical proclamation through four pointers or indicators. The first of these is a time indicator (after John is arrested), followed by a place indicator (Galilee), a form indicator (Proclaiming), and a content indicator (the Good News of God). These serve to clarify the proclamation.
The mention of the arrest of John serves to remove him from the story so that he can make way for Jesus. It also serves to explain that the time of John is now past and that a new time has begun. John’s baptism with water is being completed through the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus alone can give. Galilee is home for Jesus, a place of acceptance, a place of the proclamation of the kingdom and the stage where the kingdom will be revealed in action. That Jesus comes “proclaiming’ instead of “teaching” indicates the desire for the message to be heard by all. The proclamation is universal and includes every human being and all of nature. The good news that Jesus proclaims is not made up by him, but is the good news of God. It is God who has mandated Jesus to speak the words that follow. This indicator is crucial because it speaks of who God is and how he regards humans who are created in his image and likeness.
A glimpse of this good news of God is given to us in the first reading in the covenant or promise that God makes to Noah. It is a promise that is made after the destruction of the whole world by the flood. God’s promise here is significant, because it is the first promise in the Bible that is to be fulfilled, not only in the lives of the Israelites but, in the lives of all people. The whole of humanity will never again be threatened with destruction. This covenant marked the start of a whole new world and a whole new way of looking at, and dealing with, God. However, this covenant, complete as it may have seemed, was still lacking because it was a covenant with God from on high, in heaven, and his people down on earth. It was to be completed and made perfect in yet another covenant that would be the final and definitive covenant between God and his people. It was completed when God made it so by sending his son, not merely to make an absolutely new covenant but also, to be the Covenant or Promise for all times and all ages.
This then is the good news that Jesus proclaims from God that, in him, as never before, all people everywhere have been saved. If in the promise made to Noah, the focus was on non-destruction of the human race, in the proclamation of Jesus, the focus is not merely on non-destruction, but on salvation through love. The core of the proclamation of Jesus is that God has taken the initiative. He has loved first, he has forgiven first, and he has accepted first. The placement of the words in the proclamation confirms this, since it tells us that the kingdom has come, not because of any effort on our part, not because we have done some commendable act or, because we are worthy. It has come because, in Jesus, God loves unconditionally.
As humans, we have only to respond to that love, forgiveness, and acceptance. This response is done through “repentance” which never means being sorry. Rather, it means a change of heart, mind, and vision. It is a call to look at every person, situation, or thing, in a new way. It is a call to look at God anew. It is a call to give up the old, stereotypical and prejudiced way of looking at God, at others, and at the world. It is a call to dare to look as if looking for the first time. It is a call to realize that God constantly makes all things new.
Peter echoes this idea in the second reading of today, when he explicates that this Covenant or Promise made by God was made even when men and women were sinners. There is no longer any condition that humans must fulfill in order to earn or gain God’s love. God’s love is given freely, unconditionally and without measure.
Thus, on the first Sunday of Lent, the call is to Leave Every Negative Thing. It means a refusal to walk the path of frustration, anxiety, or despair and to take instead the road of happiness, peace, and joy. It means that, though the road might get steep and the going difficult, we will continue to carry on walking the path, confident in the knowledge that, in Jesus, we are saved. The negative has gone, the positive has come, and sin is overcome by love. The old has gone, the new has indeed come.