Tag Archives: 1 Sunday of Lent

18 February 2018: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 9:8-15   Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9   1 Pt 3:18-22   Mk 1:12-15

Preparing for Easter: baptism and testing

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, and foretells his coming glory to the temple leadership, Nicodemus, and his disciples. For RCIA participants, the Lenten season is a time of rites and prayers that prepare them for the sacraments they will experience at the Easter Vigil. The readings recall the meaning of our baptism and ask us to consider how our discipleship is tested.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah, his family, and all living things. God will never again destroy the world by water. God seals this covenant with the rainbow as its sign. Early Christian writers understand the flood story as prefiguring baptism. The Lectionary editors chose this story to match today’s second reading.

The second reading is from the first letter of Peter. Today’s selection is part of a baptismal homily. The author draws on Jewish tradition about the “imprisoned spirits,” spirits of the wicked drowned by the flood of Noah’s time. Christ’s “proclamation” is the good news of salvation, and the wicked dead are now given a chance to repent. This interpretation sets up his typology of the flood water and baptism. Noah and his family are saved though water, which the ark sails on or through. Christians, also, are saved through baptismal water, which they float on or through. As part of baptism, the catechumen “appeals” or pledges to God a “clear conscience” or changed heart (metanoia). Jesus preaches this same metanoia in today’s gospel.

Mark’s gospel contains two related narratives: Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, and the start of his mission and message.

  • Testing in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11), the Spirit drives him into the wilderness, traditionally a place of testing and revelation. Satan, God’s adversary, wants to find out what God’s words–“You are my beloved son”–really mean. Satan tests Jesus to see who he is, and to determine Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus has come to break Satan’s grasp on the world and on humanity. Mark connects Jesus’ baptism and testing to warn the newly baptized that baptism does not make them immune to ongoing testing.
  • Mission and message. Mark summarizes Jesus’ good news and the action required from those who hear his proclamation: “God’s kingdom is near. Change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news.” For Mark, Hebrew scripture’s promises are the root of Christian faith, and Christian life and experience reflects those fulfilled promises. Their path to faith in the good news leads them through metanoia and baptism.

Today’s Lenten readings remind RCIA candidates and the believing community about the meaning and power of baptism. Discipleship requires that we live in the ambiguity of the wilderness: a place of both testing and revelation. Evil attacks us–pride, greed, addictions, institutional violence, and on and on. At the same time, through baptism, we share in the Spirit’s power to break evil’s grip and to live out salvation’s good news. What tests do we face every day? How do we respond? What is revealed?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 March 2017: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17 Rom 5:12-19 Mt 4:1-11

Lent: testing, estrangement, reconciliation

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community walks with Jesus during the final period of his ministry. The Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize and to reject temptations that might subvert discipleship. For RCIA participants preparing to receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil, Lent is a time of special rites and prayers.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of humans’ estrangement from God. Our alienation begins in Genesis, but our full reconciliation concludes only with Jesus’ transformative death and resurrection. Today’s second reading contrasts and completes the story.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul contrasts the effects of Adam’s disobedience (today’s first reading) with Christ’s redemptive mystery. Adam’s transgression brings death into the world and to all humans. But God’s grace and Christ’s obedient act (the cross) are greater than Adam’s transgression. Where Adam’s disobedience brought all humans condemnation, God’s freely given, overflowing grace brought all humans righteousness.

Matthew’s gospel described Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness. The Greek word πειράζω (pih-RAHd-zoh) means not only “to test to discover someone’s nature or character,” but also “to try to entrap” as well as “to entice to improper behavior.” Satan’s three tests are as follows:

  • Turn stones to bread. God’s chosen people suffered hunger in the wilderness (Num 11:5-20). Satan tests the hungry Jesus with bread, but his test is really about Jesus as messiah. Food in abundance is a sign of the messianic kingdom. If Jesus uses divine power to satisfy his own hunger, he compromises himself and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 8:3.
  • Throw yourself down from the temple. God’s chosen people demanded proof of God’s presence and protection at Massah (Ex 17:1-7). Satan begins his second test with a scripture quote about God’s protection (Ps 91:11-12), but his test is really about Jesus as obedient son and messiah. Jesus’ public show of power would announce his messiahship to all present. If Jesus uses God’s protection to show his messianic power, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion,responding with Dt 6:16.
  • Earthly power if you worship me. God’s chosen people worshiped a false god when they lost faith in God. In the third test, Satan drops all pretenses and subtlety. He offers Jesus a shortcut to the messianic kingdom without the cross’ humiliation, suffering, and death. If Jesus chooses to establish a political kingdom and this world’s false gods over God’s plan, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 5:7-9.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on human limitations and God’s powerful grace and presence.Rather than use divine power to overcome Satan, Jesus faced the devil’s tests in a human way, in full solidarity with humanity. Jesus shows us that we, too, can overcome traps and temptations. Knowing scripture and committing to live scripture’s message are powerful weapons against the world’s enticements. Do we use God’s word and sacraments when we are tested?

—Terence Sherlock

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14 February 2016: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 26:4-10 Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15 Rom 10:8-13 Lk 4:1-13

 

Lent: whom do we worship?

During Lent the believing community walks with Jesus during the final period of his ministry. We follow Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, tells parables, forgives, and arrives in Jerusalem. For RCIA participants, the season of Lent is a time of special rites and prayers as they prepare to receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil. The Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to reject the temptations that might subvert our discipleship.

In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses describes how the Hebrews are to offer firstfruits. Firstfruits was a spring harvest celebration that included offering a small portion of the first harvested grain or fruit to God. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to comment on the gospel (Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness)–both readings use the Greek word προσκυνέω (pros-koo-NEH-oh): “worship.”

In the second reading from Romans, Paul explains that salvation (“righteousness”) can come only through faith. Paul quotes the essential Christian kerygma of Jesus’ death and resurrection: If you profess that Jesus is Lord and you believe that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Acknowledging Jesus’ lordship and believing in God’s saving acts lead us to salvation; our witness to Jesus and our faith in God lead us to keep God’s laws and do good works.

In the gospel we hear that Jesus, immediately after his baptism, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days: The wilderness (literally “the lonesome place”) is traditionally a place of testing (for example, the Hebrews’ desert trials and testing in Exodus). In the wilderness, the devil tests Jesus’ identity by offering him alternate ways to be the messiah:

  • Tell this stone to be bread: This temptation is about how Jesus would use his power–that is, to benefit himself. Instead, Jesus’ ministry is focused on feeding others.
  • The world is yours if you worship me: This temptation is about whom Jesus would serve with his power–that is, to command the world in service to the devil. Instead, Jesus recognizes God as source of his mission, and preaches God’s word to the world.
  • Throw yourself down so angels will come: This temptation is about how Jesus would reveal his messiahship–that is, through very public acts of power that had no benefit to people. Instead, Jesus reveals himself through acts of power that heal, feed or teach.

Having failed to subvert Jesus’ mission, the devil leaves Jesus “for a time.” In Luke, this “special time” is the period of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and healing. The devil returns in Lk 22.

These Lenten readings ask RCIA participants–and all of us–very simply: whom do we serve? Moses tells us to “set our offering before God, and worship before the Lord.” Paul reminds us that “everyone who calls on (worships) the Lord’s name will be saved.” Jesus dismisses the devil with “God alone is worthy of worship.” Every day and everywhere we are tempted to power, self-service, and self-importance. Whom do we serve?

—Terence Sherlock

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