Bible Reflection (18 February 2024)

1st Sunday of Lent Year B

Genesis 9:8-15
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

As we begin our Lenten journey, we are invited to reflect on our covenent relationship with God.

My brothers and sisters, this week we begin our seven-week preparation period towards Easter. More than any other time during the year, the Lenten season is a time when God invites us to reflect on our life and our relationship with Him. Why is this important? Because many in the world have yet to find true happiness. Many of us strive hard for happiness – whether it is for money, status or good relationships with our loved ones. Yet true joy and contentment continue to elude many of us. Why is that so? This is because God is source of our joy. And even though we called ourselves Christians, many of us have yet to find an intimate place in our hearts for God. As St Augustine said to God, “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Hence, it is appropriate that we commence our Lenten journey with a reflection of our relationship with God. In the First Reading this week, we recall the story of the Great Flood, where Noah and his family were saved from destruction by the Ark that Noah constructed. When the water receded, God said to Noah and his sons, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you” (verse 9). But what is the covenant relationship that God promised Noah, his family and by extension, us? To begin exploring this covenant relationship, we first need to understand what a covenant is. Covenant is sometime described as an agreement. But this is not entirely accurate. While a covenant has elements of an agreement, a covenant relationship is more than just having a kind of “spiritual contract” with God. The truth is, a covenant is a pledge of the two parties to share life with each other. Insofar as being life-giving, a covenant is also a pledge for the two parties to sacrifice for each other. Whereas ancient covenant is a mutual commitment by two parties to each other, our covenant with God has one important difference. For in establishing a covenant relationship with humankind, God took the initiative to unilaterally pledge Himself to us; while he patiently and lovingly wait for us to reciprocate. St Paul underpinned this point in the Second Reading when he wrote, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” (verse 18) And to emphasise the unilateral nature of God’s covenant, St Paul wrote elsewhere: “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:7-8)

My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: What is the state of my covenant relationship with God? Have I responded to Jesus’ outreach by showing the same life-giving gestures and the same sacrifices? Not only to God, but have I extended the same life-giving gestures and sacrifices to my brothers and sisters too? For as St Paul said, “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Rom 12:5). Indeed, our brothers and sisters are in fact the body of Christ. In other words, God is inviting us to reexamine our attitude to our brothers and sisters, especially those whom we find most hard to love. So we ask ourselves: Have I loved my brothers and sisters the same way Jesus loves me?

In the Second Reading this week, St Paul invoked God’s covenant relationship by recalling the Great Flood. He wrote, “when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (verse 20-21). Notice how St Paul links the waters of the Great Flood to the waters of our baptism? Indeed, just as the waters of the Great Flood brought Noah’s family to God’s covenant, the waters of our baptism bind us all as one family in covenant relationship with God.

My brothers and sisters, let this be our challenge this Lent, that is, to grow closer to each other and to God in covenant. In the Gospel this week, we read that before He began His public ministry, Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (verse 13) This was Jesus’ purification. Having been purified, He commenced his public ministry, proclaiming repentance and the Good News: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (verse 15) As Jesus stood at the beginning of His quest to convert humanity, so too are we at the beginning of a conversion journey – our own conversion. My dear friends, we are at the beginning of our great Lenten journey. As we pray and reflect, let the Scripture passages this week have the same purification effect on us as we commence Lent. Amen.