Saturday, 20 February 2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021 - Love Encourages New Thoughts

To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 9:8-15;1 Pet 3:18-22;Mk 1:12-15

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, since they commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord. While Lent is actually a translation of the Latin term, quadragesima, which means ‘forty days’ or literally the ‘fortieth day’, it also refers to the spring season. The forty-day period is symbolic of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, a detail mentioned by all the synoptic gospels. 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.

While Matthew and Luke narrate the three temptations in the desert and Jesus’ responses, 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 the temptations when tested for forty days, but Israel succumbed to temptations during their forty year period of testing in the desert. 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, with angels ministering to Jesus, is only one part of the story.

The second part – 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 (proclaiming), and a content indicator (the Good News of God). These serve to clarify the proclamation.

The arrest of John serves to remove him from the story, so that he can make way for Jesus, with whom a new time has begun. Galilee is home for Jesus, a place of acceptance, a place of the proclamation of the kingdom. That Jesus comes “proclaiming” instead of “teaching” indicates that this is the message to be heard by all. 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 these words. 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 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. It was completed when God sent his son, not merely to make a 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 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 kingdom has come, not because we are worthy or have done something commendable. It has come because, in Jesus, God loves unconditionally. 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.

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 realize that 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 in 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, and that sin is overcome by love. The old has gone, the new has indeed come.

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