1st SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle B)

Readings:
Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The Theme of the Readings: Overcoming the Powers of Evil in the New Creation
Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good.  Evil was introduced into the world by Satan who enticed Adam and Eve to rebel against the will of God for their lives.  Their temptation led to sin, and sin led to death (Gen 3:1-7).  God did not create sin and death: Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.  For he fashioned all things that they might have being ...For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.  But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it (Wis 1:13-14a and 2:23-24)It was not God who tempted them to sin (Jm 1:17-15); but, by their own free-will (Sir 15:11-14), they chose to willfully break the love relationship with God by placing their selfish will over God's divine will for their lives in their desire to decide for themselves what was good and what was evil (Gen 3:5).  It is the same circumstance of temptation and sin that plagues men and women today.  For most of us those temptations that erode our relationship with God are brought about through the daily routine of indifference toward God that leads to failure in sin.  But God did not abandon humanity to sin.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world to overcome the powers of evil and to undo the works of the devil so that those who believe in Christ might overcome the powers of evil in a New Creation (1 Jn 3:8). 

It is during the season of Lent that God calls us to return to the innocence of Baptism and submit ourselves to the New Covenant in Christ.  In the First Reading, we hear how God saved Noah and his family during the great Flood and made the start of a new creation in an everlasting covenant with Noah's family and all creatures of the earth under the sign of the rainbow (Gen 9:8-17).  As St. Peter reminds us, the lives of Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the flood, as we are saved through the waters of Christian baptism (the Second Reading).  It is through the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that God has given us a New Creation and a new and greater Covenant in the blood of Christ that can lead us to eternal life (Lk 22:20).  In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is portrayed as the "new Adam." He is the beloved son of God (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:38) who lived in the wilderness in harmony with the wild animals like the first Adam and was served by angels (Gen 2:19-20; Ez 28:12-14; Mk 1:13).  The first Adam yielded to Satan's temptations and his fall from grace brought about the reign of sin and death.  Like the first Adam, Jesus, in His humanity, was tempted like all mankind, but unlike Adam, He did not yield to Satan's temptations and proved victorious.  It is through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism that we have a share in that victory (Rom 5:12-14, 17-20).  This is why we renew our baptismal vows during Lent, reaffirming our commitment to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, as we sing in today's psalm: "Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep your covenant."  See the document "The Lenten Journey".

The First Reading Genesis 9:8-15 ~ The Covenant with Noah and all Creation
8 God said to Noah and his sons with him: 9 "See, I am now establishing my covenant with you 10 and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with you and came out of the ark.  11 I will establish my covenant with you that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth."  12 God added: "This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: 13 I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  14 When I bring the clouds, and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings."

In verses 8-11, God vows to never again destroy the earth by water.  The covenant sign that will be a reminder of His oath is the "bow"— the rainbow (verses 12-15).  When He sees His "bow", God will "remember" (zakar in Hebrew) His covenant with Noah and all creation.  The Hebrew word translated in English as "bow" is qesheth (keh'-sheth), which means "bow" as in a weapon or an instrument for hunting.  This word is used three times in Genesis chapter 9 (9:13, 14, and 16).  It is the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 27:3 ~ Now take your weapons, your quiver and bow...  (also see Gen 48:22; 49:24; Josh 24:12; 1 Sam 18:4; 2 Sam 1:18, 22; 22:35; 1 Kng 22:34; 2 Kng 6:22; 9:24; 13:15, 16; 1 Chr 5:18; 12:2; 2 Chr 17:17; 18:33; etc.).  The bow is an ancient weapon used both for hunting and for war.  In hanging up His "bow", which stretches from earth to heaven and horizon to horizon, God is demonstrating His desire for peace with man and creation and that He will no longer make "war" upon the earth using water.  The visible sign of His promise and the sign of the covenant formed with Noah and all creation is what we see in the sky often after a rain storm—the rain-bow.

It is significant that the rainbow has 7 colors.  7 is a number connected to the first Creation event, to the Flood, and to the renewed creation founded in a new covenant.  The rainbow in its 7 color display recalls the 7 days of the first creation and symbolizes the oath swearing necessary for a renewed covenant.  The number 7 is one of the "perfect" numbers in Sacred Scripture, reflecting fullness and perfection, especially spiritual perfection (see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture").  The number 7 in Hebrew is sheba or shava, which also means "oath"' to "swear an oath" in Hebrew is to literally "7 one's self."  The number 7 figures prominently in chapter 1 of Genesis in the account of Creation and the formation of the Covenant with Adam: 7 times God pronounced creation as "good" (Gen 1:4, 10, 13, 19, 21, 25 and 31), and God rested on the 7th day (Gen 2:1), establishing it as His day to commune with man.  The number 7 also figures prominently in the Flood account: 

Through the events of the Great Flood, water became a covenantal symbol of exterior and interior purity.  In 1 Corinthians 10:1, St. Paul will describe the children of Israel passing through the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) as a baptism or immersion unto Moses when the people passed from a life of slavery to new life as the chosen people of Yahweh.  Covenant ritual purification by water in sprinkling and in immersion became an important part of the rituals of the Sinai Covenant (Lev 8:6; 14:9; Ez 36:25; Mk 1:4-5).  All of these Old Testament rituals prefigured Christian baptism: the washing away of the old life of sin and a rebirth by the power of water and the Holy Spirit: dying to sin and death in the waters of baptism and being resurrection with Christ into a new life as a child of God (see Jn chapter 3; Rom 6:3-4; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Col 2:12; Tit 3:4-8). 

God's "bow/ rainbow" is also mentioned in Psalm 45:3-6; Ezekiel 1:26-28 (above the heavenly throne); Habakkuk 3:8-9; Revelation 4:3 (above God's throne) and 6:2.  God's war bow won't play another prominent role in Sacred Scripture until Revelation 6:2, when the war bow God hung in the heavens as a sign of the Noahide Covenant will become a symbol of judgment and will be taken up again, carried by the mysterious "Rider on the White Horse": Immediately I saw a white horse appear, and its rider was holding a bow; he was given a victor's crown and he went away, to go from victory to victory (NJB).  See the Agape Bible Study Revelation study, chapter 6.

The covenant God formed with Noah, his descendants, and all living things is a "royal grant covenant".  It is an eternal covenant based solely on God the Divine King's graciousness.  It is the second of the seven Old Testament covenants, some of which are royal grant covenants and others which will be treaty covenants in which the vassal with whom the covenant is made is then responsible for obligations and duties which must be performed to maintain the covenant.  In this royal grant covenant, maintenance of the covenant is God's covenant duty (Gen 9:11).  The final covenant, the New Covenant of the Redeemer-Messiah, will be the 8th and final covenant (Jer 31:31; Mt 26:28; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). See the document: "Yahweh's Eight Covenants".

There are a series of seven covenant formations between God and those who enter into covenant with Him in the Old Testament, with each covenant building upon the next.  Both Noah's covenant and the New Covenant in Christ Jesus include all humanity and all the living things of creation; all other covenants are between God and individuals and the corporate covenant with Israel as a unity of one people and the New Covenant Kingdom of the Church as One in Christ Jesus.  Human wickedness was purged in the Great Flood but not erased.  From the time of the fall of Adam, sin continued to grow and human wickedness came to affect all of creation and the destiny of all living creatures came to be linked to human destiny—for good and for evil.  This is why St. Paul wrote that it is through Christ's saving act of self-sacrifice that not only all mankind but all creation can be freed and redeemed (Rom 8:19-25).  

Responsorial Psalm 25:4-9 ~ Keeping God's Covenant
The response is: "Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep your covenant."
4 Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; tech me your paths.  5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior.
Response:
6 Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from old.  7 In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
Response: 8 Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.  9 He guides the humble to justice, and he teaches the humble his way.
Response:

Psalm 25 is attributed to David, and is written in an acrostic pattern that begins each verse with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The psalmist petitions the Lord to instruct him in the ways of righteousness; he knows that it is from God that salvation comes (verses 4-5).  He asks for God's forgiveness for past sins because he has confidence in God's compassion, love, and goodness (verses 6-7).  In verses 8-9, the psalmist speaks of how God responds to both "sinners" and the "humble".  The "humble" are those who confess their sins to the Lord.  God instructs the sinner and leads the humble on the path to salvation.  St. Augustine wrote concerning this psalm: "Moreover, the one who follows the Lord's paths, and sees that he has been set free through no merit of his own, and takes no pride in his own efforts, will draw nearer to the Lord; in times to come, he will avoid the severe judgment that will be handed down to those who question all these things, for he has experienced the mercy of the one who came to his aid" (St. Augustine, Enarrationes, in Psalmos, 24.10).

The Second Reading 1 Peter 3:18-22 ~ The Power of the Resurrection
18 Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.  Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.  19 In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, 20 who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through the water.  21 This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.  It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

In this passage, St. Peter links the death and resurrection experience of Noah and his family, in passing through the sin cleansing waters of the Great Flood over the earth, with Christian baptism.  The words "put to death in the flesh" in verse 18, affirms that Jesus truly died as a human being.  But death was not victorious over Christ because "he was brought to life in the Spirit"; that is in the new and transformed glorified life in which He was freed from the weakness of a natural human life (see 1 Cor 15:45).

Then St. Peter testifies that, like all mankind prior to the Resurrection, Jesus descended into the netherworld, Sheol in Hebrew and Hades in Greek.  In Sheol, all humanity was imprisoned awaiting the coming of the promised Redeemer-Messiah: the sinners being purified of their sins and the righteous in the company of Abraham ("Abraham's Bosom") waiting their liberation (see Jesus' description of Sheol in Lk 16:19-31).  Under the Old Covenant there were no eternal blessings or judgments—all blessings and judgments were temporal; blessings and judgments did not become eternal until the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Descending from His tomb to the "prison" of Sheol, Jesus preached the Gospel of salvation to those who had been waiting since the first human deaths in salvation history, even those souls who died in the time of Noah (the "hell" of the Apostles' Creed).  St. Peter says the event that saved those members of Noah's family in waters of the great Flood, when they experienced a renewed Creation, prefigured Christian baptism in which the faithful are saved through the spiritual waters of baptism as they receive the gift of new life and become a new creation through water and the Spirit (Jn 3:3-5).  Peter testifies that Jesus then led those who accepted His Gospel of salvation out of the "prison" of Sheol and into the gates of Heaven that had been closed since the Fall of Adam (CCC 356; 1026): the Catechism teaches:

At the time of that liberation, Christ has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Pt 3:22b), and the gates of Heaven have remained open to those are made righteous in Christ Jesus (see Rev 4:1).  

The Gospel of Mark 1:12-15 ~ The Temptation of the Jesus Christ and the beginning of the Galilean Ministry

12 The Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  13 He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 15 "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel." 

In St. Mark's Gospel, the story of God's plan for Jesus continues to unfold:

Satan, also called the devil, was once an angel created by God to be good.  But, when given the gift of free will, Satan chose to lead a rebellion against God (see Jn 8:44; CCC 391-92).  He and those angels who joined him were defeated by St. Michael the Archangel and his army of angels (Rev 12:7-9).  Satan and his fallen angels were thrown out of heaven into the "fiery pit", or "lake of fire", or Gehenna as Jesus referred to the Hell of the damned.  It was Satan, the liar and deceiver of man, who in the guise of a serpent tempted Adam and Eve into the sin of rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7; Rev 12:9).

Jesus' testing by Satan and His 40-day ordeal in the desert wilderness recalls other similar ordeals of other agents of God in the Old Testament.  In Scripture, 40 is a number symbolizing both testing and consecration (for example see Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7; Ex 24:15-18; 34:28; Num 14:34-35; Dt 9:9, 18 and 1 Kng 19:4-8).  Some examples of testing are:

Like Moses, Elijah, and the covenant people of Israel, Jesus encountered the ambiguity of the wilderness experience.  It can be a place to experience God in a unique way as it was for Moses, the children of Israel, and the prophet Elijah at Mt. Sinai.  But the desert can also be a desolate place to experience a test of faith and obedience as in the case of the 40-year ordeal of the children of Israel.

Like Adam and Eve in the first Creation, Jesus is tested by Satan.  But then the parallel experiences differ.   Jesus is the new Adam who resists Satan's temptations (1 Cor 15:22, 45; CCC 411).  He is the new Adam of the new Creation.  Like the first Adam who was tested by Satan concerning the obedience of his covenant obligation to God in the Garden of Eden, Jesus experiences the test of a covenant ordeal.  A comparison can also be made to the way the faith and obedience of the children of Israel was tested in the wilderness in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy.  Jesus passes His test, unlike the first Adam who was exiled from the Garden Sanctuary in Eden and the first generation of the children of Israel who, for their failures in obedience and faith, were condemned to an exile of 40 years of wandering and were forbidden entrance into the Promised Land (Num 14:34-35).  Jesus will usher in a new Israel and a new Edenic Sanctuary that is the true Promised Land of Heaven.  The failure of Adam brought death and alienation from God, but the victory of Jesus will bring eternal life and union with the Most Holy Trinity!

Mark's account of the Temptation does not have as detailed an account as that which is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but he provides information that is not in the other two accounts in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.  Mark is in agreement with the other accounts in that the same Spirit that descended upon Him at His baptism led Jesus into the desert and that He remained there for 40 days.  Mark does not give the details of the three times Satan tempted Jesus, but in agreement with Matthew's account he provides the information that angels ministered to Jesus after His ordeal.  The new information Mark provides is that Jesus was "among the wild beasts."

13 He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
Creation, contaminated by sin, is now a dangerous environment as in the wild beasts that inhabit the desert.  And yet, no harm can come to Jesus from them because He has power and authority over the beasts.  The detail that Jesus was among the bests and they apparently did not harm Him may be meant to recall Isaiah's prophecy that when the Messiah comes even the wild beasts will be tamed and will live in harmony (Is 11:1-9; also see Ez 34:25-28).  Jesus' coming is the beginning of restoring order to Creation; it is an order that will not be fully restored until His Second Coming at the end of time.  Angels ministered to Him because they acknowledge Him as their Lord God.  Perhaps there is also a connection to the angels who accompanied the children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex 14:19).  God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are the main agents of the action in Jesus' initial experiences until the close of St. Mark's Prologue in verses 1-13 where Jesus' authority is revealed over angels and beasts of the earth.  The chief agent in the action that follows is God the Son.

14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 15 "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel." 
Verses 14-15 can be seen as a summary looking back to the first words of the Gospel of Mark in verses 1-3.  But Jesus' statement in verse 15 can also be seen as looking forward to Jesus' ministry or a gateway into the narrative that follows. 

Verse 14 mentions the arrest of St. John the Baptist.  He was arrested by the tetrarch Herod Antipas.  He was the son of Herod the Great and ruler of both the Galilee and the territory of Perea on the east side of the Jordan River where John was baptizing.  Antipas had an affair with his niece Herodias who was his brother's wife and Herod the Great's granddaughter.  He convinced her to divorce her husband and marry him, even though such a union was forbidden by the Law of Moses if the woman's husband was still living, as hers was (Lev 18:16).  In his role as a hereditary descendant of Aaron and an ordained priest of the Sinai Covenant, John the Baptist condemned Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias for the sin of adultery.  Herod Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him in the Herodian fortress in Perea called Macherus (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2; also see Mt 4:12-17; 14:3-12).

John's arrest was the signal that John's ministry had come to an end and Jesus's ministry must begin.  Jesus is now thirty years old (Lk 3:23).  It is the same age that His ancestor David became King of Israel (2 Sam 5:4).  The Galilee was the perfect location for Jesus' ministry.  The region was a crossroads for the great Via Maris, the ancient trade route that came out of Egypt, extended along the Mediterranean coast, passed through the Galilee, and continued into Syria, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia.  Jesus didn't have to go to the various neighboring Gentile nations where Jews lived because they came to Him in the three yearly pilgrimages to the Jerusalem Temple commanded in the Law of Moses (Ex 23:14-17; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:3).  Jesus' mission was to preach that the promised eternal Kingdom promised to David was coming (2 Sam 7:13-16; 23:5; 2 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:24; Dan 2:44) and now was the time to "repent and believe" (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15).

Catechism References:
Genesis 9:8-15 (CCC 2569); 9:9 (CCC 56)
1 Peter 3:18-19 (CCC 632, 633)
Mark 1:12-13 (CCC 538); 1:12 (CCC 333); 1:15 (CCC 541, 1423, 1427)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015