First Sunday of Lent (B) (Genesis 9:8-15; 1st. Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)
In the course of history God made four covenants with men: the first was set up through Noah for all time and for the whole of mankind and indeed for every living animal; then there were three temporal covenants for the good of His Chosen People made through Abraham, Moses, and David; and finally, a fifth covenant for the eternal salvation of all mankind, established in and through His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.
You heard of the covenant with Noah in the first reading:
I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.
That was and still is an enduring covenant: never again will waters become a flood to destroy sinful life on earth. Notice the connection between water and life in this the first covenant.
The terms of God’s covenant with Abraham were:
Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2)
And so, the second covenant set up a pilgrim people, a people called to set out on a journey towards the unknown, following God’s guidance in complete trust. It was a covenant of faith.
You well remember the covenant with Moses:
Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. They said, "All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient." And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words." (Exodus 24:6-8)
This third covenant required God’s Chosen People to live in accordance with the Law given by God through Moses: it was, consequently, a covenant of obedience.
The fourth was that God made with David and his house:
When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before Me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:12,16.)
In this covenant we have the promise of a Messiah, a Saviour of kingly line, whose kingdom will endure for ever; this fourth covenant was a covenant of hope.
Finally, we have the fifth and eternal covenant which Jesus entered into on our behalf:
He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:20)
A covenant of love, divine love calling for mankind’s return of love.
People of God, we must clearly recognise the wonderful wisdom of our God, for this fifth covenant includes all that had gone before. Here water, used in the original and still enduring covenant with Noah, is now sacramentally associated with life again: no longer is it to serve as a flood to destroy the life of sinful humanity, but now water under the power God’s word mediates the gift of new, sacramental, baptismal life of the spirit for all who believe in Jesus. Again, as with all true descendants of Abraham our father in faith, Jesus’ redeemed people are a people of faith, this time, however, of supernatural faith, ever on pilgrimage looking forward to and living for that which eyes cannot see, that which ears have never heard before, that of which the tongue of man may never tell the whole. Moreover, this new People of God, the house of Jesus, is pledged to obey a teaching foreshadowed, and indeed prepared for, by the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, but now become a law, not of letters inscribed on stone tablets, but of grace poured into men’s hearts by the Spirit of Jesus and Gift of God, that they might respond to God as He wills: in Spirit and in Truth. And finally, the covenant of hope in the line of David is most sublimely fulfilled in Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, the promised Messiah become our Saviour and Leader, and Who, by His Death and Resurrection, is able and desires to make of us a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, called to sing more beautiful praises of God than king David and all the Psalmists could ever bring forth. This covenant of Jesus is a covenant of fulfilling love, enabling the Kingdom of God to begin even here on earth by beams of heaven’s merciful glory being reflected back in humble and total love for God by disciples of Jesus and members of His Mystical Body.
After John (the Baptist) had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’
How wise is our God! How beautiful is the revelation which Jesus -- originally in His own preaching and now through His Spirit -- makes known to us in Mother Church and from the Scriptures! Cleansing water bestowing new supernatural life called to set out on a pilgrimage from earthly sin and death to eternal joy and divine fulfilment; a pilgrimage along a way not of our own choosing or any merely human imagining, but one marked out for us by the teaching of God’s beloved Son Who – by His own Most Holy Spirit in Mother Church – both calls and enables us to follow Him along His way.
However, dear brothers and sister in Christ, we must never forget that before Jesus proclaimed His Good News in Israel, before He set about healing the sick, enabling the blind to see, the lame to walk and the dumb to speak, He was first of all led out into the desert -- the devil’s homeland, so to speak -- to fight personally against the power and cunning of Satan. Why? Because Satan could not deceive Jesus!
Whereas the multitude of men are largely unaware of Satan’s presence and work in their individual lives and in society, in the case of this man Jesus, Satan was unable so to disguise and hide himself as to be able to stealthily worm his way into Jesus’ human psyche and gradually corrupt before ultimately destroying Him at his own ‘leisure’, pleasure, and will. Satan was obliged therefore -- even though most reluctantly, for he knew there was something disturbing about Jesus’ ordinary appearance -- to try to overcome Him in a direct confrontation where and when he, Satan, was at his strongest, and Jesus, after His forty-day’s fast, would presumably be at His weakest.
Therefore, we, His disciples who aspire to further the mission of Jesus in our world today must first of all -- under the guidance of the Gospel and in the power of the Spirit -- enter into serious combat against our own personal sinfulness by sincere repentance, a repentance not merely to be pronounced by formulaic words but deeply experienced by a ‘humbled and contrite’ heart.
Have you ever read of, heard of, perhaps even experienced, true, self-sacrificing, love or heroism; have you ever listened to music or read poetry, seen landscapes or looked at paintings, of such beauty that afterwards – even though only momentarily – you most deeply, and even painfully, felt unable to ignore a humbling awareness of your own emptiness and pettiness, your own lack of love, innocence, and true worth? Well, that is some slight, vague, but nevertheless true, likeness of repentance before God; repentance before a glimpse of God seen in the Person of Jesus and heard in His Gospel of salvation:
The Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from God (John 16:27);
a glimpse of God observed in the wonder and beauty of His Creation, and in a whisper -- barely heard in your heart of hearts – yet known as coming from Him Who is our true and only Father, calling you secretly and most persuasively to become a child of His now in the Jesus He sent for our salvation, and ultimately a member of His heavenly family by His Spirit of Love.
Let us all, therefore, try to follow Jesus in this Lenten season by making serious efforts both to resist, and – in God’s great goodness -- to overcome, sin in our lives, the only sure sign of love for God on earth, and the unshakeable pledge of eternal salvation thanks to the saving Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.