Feb. 17, 2018

First Sunday of Lent, 2018


Readings: 1st- Gen. 9:8-15; 2nd- 1 Pet. 3:18-22; Gospel- Mark 1: 12-15

The story of the rainbow is quite a popular one in the Scripture, the sign of God’s covenant with Noah after the deluge. It is a sign of the covenant which expresses God’s love not only for Noah but for his entire creation. For God said, “See, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you” (Gen. 9:9-10). And that sign is to remain forever, “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come”. Through the rainbow sign, the bible presents us with the theology of God’s mercy for his people. 

In the New Testament, Christ becomes the definitive revelation of God’s covenant with humanity. In the second reading, Peter chronicles the sufferings through which the humankind is saved. Christ the righteous one, suffered for the unrighteous. We enter into the covenant relationship with God at baptism. We reenact the saving miracles through the waters at the time of Noah. The Church is Noah’s ark in our time. It is the ark that brings us into the covenantal relationship with God. It is the ark in which we are saved from the toxic waters in the world. At baptism, we are signed for the first time with the sign of salvation in Christ Jesus. We are signed into God’s covenant of love. 

The gospel presents us with the temptation story of Jesus according to Mark even though Mark’s version is the most abridged. It doesn’t describe the detailed encounter like Matthew and Luke whereby the devil takes Jesus through the various stages of material and physical attractions. But we notice that Jesus prepared himself to withstand the onslaught of the devil by the powers of the Holy Spirit. “He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan, and was among wild beasts” (Mk. 1:13). That explains his suffering and mission. However, as he begins his public ministry of preaching, he declares God’s intention to bring everyone into the covenant; “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand”.

Christ is the fulfillment of God’s sign of redemption promised to the Israelites in Old Testament. He is God’s sign of salvation, the beauty of the rainbow transformed into the saving mission and beauty of the Cross. The Jews came to him to ask for a sign. “The crowds got even bigger and he addressed them, 'This is an evil generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be a sign to this generation” (Lk.11:29-30). What was Jonah to Nineveh? We read that the word of God was addressed to Jonah thus, “'Up!' he said, 'Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to them that their wickedness has forced itself upon me” (Jon. 1:2). Jonah went to preach to Nineveh. It is interesting to notice the resemblance between Jonah’s mission and what the gospel says today: “Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city and then proclaimed, 'Only forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon.3:4).

First, we notice the great significance of the number forty. Jonah emphasized that the people of Nineveh repent or in forty days be destroyed. Jesus remained in the desert for forty days where he battled with Satan. Second, Jonah set out to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jesus came into Galilee where he began his proclamation. Third, the content of Jonah’s message was similar to the message of Jesus; “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:15). Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh was to repent and be saved.

Now to understand Jesus as the great Sign, we have to go back to that encounter with the Jews to see his reference of Jonah. Matthew gives a detailed account of this. Thus, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees spoke up. 'Master,' they said, 'we should like to see a sign from you.' He replied, 'It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. On Judgement Day the men of Nineveh will appear against this generation and they will be its condemnation, because when Jonah preached they repented; and look, there is something greater than Jonah here” (Matt. 12:38-40).

Hence, the resemblance between Jesus and Jonah is not just in preaching the gospel but also in his mission. Jonah’s was the mission of repentance. Jesus’s mission is greater than Jonah’s. Jonah was only on the mission to preach. Jesus’ mission was to save. Jonah stayed three days in the belly. Jesus died for his mission. Jesus stayed in the tomb for three days in order to save the whole world. He is that Sign that is greater than Jonah.

In looking at today’s readings, we recognize the role of the sign of the rainbow as the covenant which God initiated. That covenant is made manifest in Christ. Today, we are invited into God’s covenant of love. We have been signed with the greatest Sign of the Cross as members of this covenant. God wants us to be saved. To be saved, we have to repent. We have to honor God’s word like Noah and his team. The church is the ark that connects us with Christ. The church gives us the sacraments to be nourished and to be continually fed. She invites us to the renewal of our baptismal cleansing and promises. Christ is God’s covenant of love for us. Let us listen to his voice to repent and believe in the gospel.