FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (B)
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Most of us recall the story of Noah's Ark from when we were children. If your family is like mine, you may have even had Noah's Ark toys to play with. My kids, as toddlers, always enjoyed opening their little toy Ark and finding the pairs of animals; two flamingos, two giraffes, two alligators, two cows. And of course there is Noah and his wife!
But we perhaps don't spend that much time thinking of the story of Noah and the flood as adult Christians. Today's first reading reminds us of the prominence of this story in salvation history. Genesis 9:8-15, speaks of the end of the flood, when God places a rainbow in the sky and says, "See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you... that the waters never again shall become a flood and destroy all mortal beings."
St. Peter speaks of the flood in today's second reading (1 Pet. 3:18-22) as being a salvific event. He speaks of the eight people who were "saved by water." This is interesting, as many of us would no doubt think of Noah and his family being saved from the water, rather than being saved by it. But Peter, our first Pope, has a different take on it. He describes the water as having a cleansing effect, washing the earth clean from the impurities of sin and corruption. Humanity was given a fresh start, a new beginning. Does any of this sound familiar?
If it reminds you of baptism, you are in good company. Peter tells us that the flood "prefigures baptism." He says that the water of baptism "is not a removal of dirt from the body," but rather "an appeal to God for a clear conscience." Like the waters of the flood, the waters of baptism wash us clean from all impurities (including Original Sin) and makes us new creations, reborn in Christ. We get a fresh start.
The Gospel reading today (Mk. 1:12-15) says that "this is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand." Like the flood with baptism, much of what we read in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Gospels. Or, more accurately, it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This includes, most especially, the covenant between God and His people, spoken of in today's first reading. The story of the Bible is the story of God's covenant, His promise to us God's first covenant was with Adam, an individual. The second time God established a covenant it was with Noah and his family. God next established a covenant with Abraham, father of nations. Finally, we see this all fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who established a "new and everlasting covenant," not with an individual, a particular family or nation, but with all of us. The word "catholic" does mean "universal" after all. There is no one in all creation for whom Christ did not suffer and die.
As we set forth on our Lenten journey towards Easter, let us remember the covenant God has established with us, and strive to keep it. Just as Noah sailed in the Ark for forty days during the flood, Jesus spent forty days isolated in the desert, fasting and praying in preparation for His mission. So we, too, should spend these forty days of Lent in preparation and repentance, praying with the Psalmist, "Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior" (Ps. 25:4-5).