1st Sunday in Lent 2021-B
My brothers and sisters in the Lord!
It was during Lent about a year ago, that many of us entered a sort of wilderness as we began the experience of lockdown, as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Our ways of communication changed significantly. The things we took for granted, communicating with handshakes, hugs and kisses, gatherings with family and friends around the dinner table, worshipping together in Church buildings, were replaced for many by virtual meetings and group discussions using social media and i-phones.
As we become more reliant on such devices, we’ve probably had to become more acquainted with language that accompanies them, for example “restoring factory settings”, whereby phones and other computer devices are calibrated to their original settings and software updates, when they are enhanced with the most recent settings, supposedly to make them more secure and effective. We could apply these two concepts by today’s readings, with the factory settings being the ancient stories which helped the Hebrew people fix their identity as God’s chosen people, and the software upgrade offered by Peter in his first letter, in which he updates that ancient story in the light of the ministry of Jesus.
The word “Repent”, which we heard in today’s Gospel, comes from the Greek word “metonoia”, which means a change of heart, seeing things differently, a new direction, a fresh beginning. The Gospel writers tell us that it was after John the Baptist had been arrested that Jesus began his mission with the message, “Repent, and believe in the Good News”. Jesus prepared for this by spending time in the wilderness, and as we hear from St. Mark, Jesus was tempted by Satan, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke give more details of his temptations, by telling how the devil tried to persuade Jesus to turn stones into bread, or to seek political power and influence, or to abandon his commitment to the kingdom of God.
The first two readings use the images relating to water to convey the great idea of a new start. The covenant between God and Noah, made after the great flood, is symbolized by the rainbow , which itself is caused by light refracting through water droplets. Through the water of baptism, referred to by Peter in his letter, we are saved by a pledge “made to God from a good conscience”, not from fear. This is the repentance, the change of direction, which Jesus preached, going forward with joy, knowing that the Lord is with us.
Epic stories of a great flood are found in the mythologies of many ancient peoples, and the writers of the book of Genesis took these narratives into their own context in order to make sense of the world in which they lived. In his first letter, Peter sees the story of Noah through a new lens, that is through the lens of Jesus as the beloved Son of God, the central figure of the new covenant. When Peter, on Pentecost day, addressed the crowds in the Acts of the Apostles, he spoke of the promise made “for you and your children, and for all those who are far away”. We may be far away in both distance and time from that crowd gathered over two thousand years ago in the dusty streets of Jerusalem, but the message is still the same. The Good News came for our time as well.
And so, my brothers and sisters, as we carry the Gospel story with us today, we might ask, how will we spend our Lenten time in the wilderness, a place where we can really get down to the basics? The Palestinian wilderness was a dangerous place and Jesus had to confront the risks. Mark’s account mentions the wild beasts, but also that there were angels to look after Jesus. We are never going to be able to escape all the dangers in this world. We have to face and find solutions. Like Jesus, we can be assured that we will be looked after and guided to a place of safety. In our prayers especially in situations that we find difficult and challenging, we can ask for his help and inspiration. We can discuss our problems with each other, and try to find solutions that are helpful and achievable. And we can remember above all that, as was promised through the sign of the rainbow, God is present with us always. As Jesus also assures us in today’s Gospel, “the kingdom of God is close at hand”. If we open our minds and hearts, we will find it.