Repent and Believe

Post Date: February 14, 2024
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection on the Readings for the First Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2024

Reading 1: Gn 9:8-15
Responsorial Psalm:  Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading 2: 1 Pt 3:18-22

If you read the introduction to the Book of Genesis in the New American Bible, you will see that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are described as “Primeval History.” In other words, these chapters are mythological in nature. Still, they describe models of behavior, good and evil, the proper relations of humanity to God, and God’s response to human behavior. Many of the stories come from ancient pagan myths, but the Israelite authors took those myths and put a theological slant on them, making those stories dependent on human behavior. For example, the story of the great flood in Genesis is an adaptation of an ancient Babylonian myth of a flood that destroyed nearly all life on earth. The hero in the Babylonian myth built an ark that saved himself and one of each kind of animal and was rewarded by “the gods” with immortality. But in this ancient myth, there is no reason given for the decision of “the gods” to destroy life on earth. It is just maliciousness on the part of “the gods.” However, the Israelite authors altered the mythological story to show that human sin was the reason for the destruction and that God acted out of justice in response to moral evil. But after the flood, God regretted the destruction and continued to love humanity and hold out the promise of immortality. That promise of immortality, of course, is fulfilled in the New Testament with the coming of Christ to wipe away human sin in those who will accept His teaching. And the story in Genesis of the great flood and the Ark that saved Noah’s family and the animals prefigures the Sacrament of Baptism, the first step toward our own immortality.

However, these mythological stories in the first chapters of Genesis should also be seen as metaphorical because they all point to the great truth that becomes evident in the New Testament. God is disturbed by human sin but wants to save humanity from that sin. Humanity will continue to sin, but God still offers a means to salvation and a means of expiating that sin through the teachings of Christ and the sacraments of the church for those who will accept them. It is often said that the New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament, and our reading this week from Genesis is an example of that interrelationship.

Our first reading this week is from chapter 9 of Genesis, which describes the first of many covenants that God will make throughout the Old Testament. This covenant is “unconditional,” meaning the fulfillment of the covenant is not dependent upon any human activity. It is a covenant between God and the earth and all living beings. Other covenants were conditional, dependent upon the actions of individuals or the entire people of Israel, but this one is not; God will never again destroy all life on earth because of human sin.

Our second reading from 1st Peter carries on the theme of God’s desire to save humanity from sin by reminding us that Christ died for the unrighteous in order to lead the unrighteous to God and that the story of Noah prefigured baptism “which saves you now.” 1st Peter also reminds us that, after His death on the cross, Christ “went to preach to the spirits in prison who had once been disobedient.” That, in turn, reminds us of the Apostles Creed, where we profess that after His death, Jesus “descended into Hell.” If we believe that before the time of Christ, there was no salvation because all humanity had sinned and nothing sinful can co-exist with God, then even righteous people (sinners but not evil people) who died before Christ went to the “Abode of the Dead,” but not to be tormented. Like Lazarus in Luke 16, they were held in the bosom of Abraham until Christ “descended into Hell” to free them and lead them to God (see Catechism articles 632 & 633).

Our gospel passage from Mark is a very short one this week, and it comes immediately after the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, wherein the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the voice of God from heaven declared Jesus to be His beloved Son. In our passage, that same Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, resulting in a radical confrontation between good and evil. The presence of “wild beasts” reflects an ancient belief that the desert was the abode of demons and gives a sense of the horror and danger Jesus faced in that environment.

The second part of our gospel passage is “The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry” of Jesus, and verse 1:15 sums up the entire message of the gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 

The golden thread this week: What was hinted at in our first reading from Genesis is that God desires to redeem us from our sinful ways has been fulfilled in Jesus, who conquered evil in the desert and conquered death on the cross for us if we will “Repent and believe in the gospel.” 

Reference: Image ©LPI

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