FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
1 Pt 3,18-22
The readings of the first Sunday of Lent introduce us to the journey of baptismal renovation and call us to conversion. The first reading evokes the flood, that first “baptism” by which the universe had to pass so that a new creation could rise up; in the gospel the inaugural words of the ministry of Jesus resound, proclaiming the grace of the kingdom and calling men and women to conversion.
The first reading (Gn 9,8-15) is the account of the covenant with God after the flood. The text belongs to the priestly tradition of the Pentateuch, theology that rose up in Israel in the period immediately following the exile. The flood, according to the book of Genesis’ account, was not simply a giant cataclysmic event or a terrible punishment of God. In the Bible, it is described as a regression to the original chaos that Gn 1,2 describes. God made all of the universe, corrupt by violence and evil (Gn 6,11-12), return to enter in that dark and primordial womb of chaotic waters, in such a way that all was destroyed. It was a form of “cosmic purification.” The destruction and partial regression to chaos was the necessary condition of this renewal. God destroyed all that he had created, to give beginning to a “new creation.” The symbolism of the waters that covered the earth evoke the passage toward death and resurrection: the immersion is a temporal re-integration in death; to come out of the water is a new creation. The flood is a type of “baptism” of the whole universe. The account is presented as a renovation of the entire cosmos. The new universe that rises up after the flood has its foundation and its sustenance in the convent. A new beginning that was possible because Noah, “won God’s favor” (Gn 6,8), because he was “a good man, an upright man among his contemporaries, and he walked with God” (Gn 6,9). Also the new and eternal covenant is founded on the obedience and fidelity of one man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
The text that we read today in the liturgy announces a new covenant between God and the cosmos, after the flood, by which is guaranteed that there will not be another similar destruction. God compromises himself with all of creation in an unilateral and unconditional form. This treats of an eternal covenant (Hebrew: berit olam), that does not have to be periodically renewed, nor depends on the good will of men and women. God promises to remember this pact and the sign of it is the “rainbow.” This covenant protecting history from the humanity’s origins, long before the existence of Israel, the text introduces into biblical theology a perspective strongly universalistic: God promises to preserve the life of all humanity. The new universe that will rise up after the flood does not depend on humanity, but remains anchored in the memory of God (Gn 9:15: “I shall recall the covenant between myself and you and every living creature”). The stability of the post-flood universe, to which we will belong, has its roots in the memory of God, that is to say, in a faithful mercy. This is our trust before any evil or violent force that threatens to destroy our world.
The second reading (1 Pt 3,18-22) is an ancient baptismal catechesis of the primitive Church. The obscure expression “to preach to the spirits in prison” probably is an allusion to the death and resurrection of Christ. The author of the letter develops his allegorical interpretation of Noah’s figure and of the flood’s happening in baptismal language.
The gospel (Mk 1,12-15) of today presents Jesus, before beginning his ministry, in the desert, put to the test and to temptation. Jesus, the Son of God, possesses a real human condition and like all men and women experimented the desert and the struggle to be faithful to the plan of God and himself (1,12). Mark describes him as a new Adam, as a new principle of humanity, living pacifically with wild beasts (1,13), as did Adam in the beginning of creation in the Garden of Eden (Gn 2). But also he is the Messiah. As Isaiah had announced, with the Messiah a time of definitive and universal peace will arrive, the time of fraternal sharing among men and women, and between men and women and the entire cosmos (Is 11). Jesus is good news because in hi the entire humanity finds its fullness in peace and universal reconciliation.
Afterwards we listen, to the beginning of the public ministry, the initial kerygma of Jesus, that Mark calls the “gospel of God” (Mk 1,4). This “good news” is of God because he is the subject that has taken the initiative of the message, but also because he is its object and content. In reality, Jesus announces God himself as “good news.” With the proclamation of the kingdom salvation, history reaches its fullness. The kingdom is the fulfillment of God’s promises. In Judaism of Jesus’ time, the expression “kingdom of God” resumed all that which Israel hoped for from the messianic times as an epoch of definitive manifestation of God. The kingdom is the good news that God has intervened in history mysteriously to transform everything. It is the announcement of salvation and pardon, of life and peace, of justice and liberty that God gives to all men and women. When Jesus announces that the kingdom is arriving, he is saying that God, as lord and absolute king of the universe, shows his sovereignty, his merciful love and justice. God presents himself as sovereign offering pardon to sinners, rendering justice for the poor and giving all life and salvation. To the intervention of God the disciples responds with compromise and response of faith that is manifested above all through “conversion.” Each man and woman will have to model and orient his or her conduct and mentality according to the values of the kingdom. The response to the kingdom supposes a change of route in the journey of life, a new form of relation with God, with others and with the world. Conversion is support in faith. To convert and believe in the gospel are two sides of the same reality. Man and woman convert in the measure that they adhere to Christ and to the gospel and believe in the plan of God.
With the first Sunday of Lent we become award of the fidelity of God that gives life to the universe and of the necessity to enter also into death, so that our old “man” may be destroyed and can resurrect with Christ to a new life. This true sign of this passage is baptism; the journey is the itinerary of conversion toward Easter, sustained by the word of God.