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1st SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle B)

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

Abbreviations: NAB (New American Bible), 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).

God reveals His divine plan for humanity in the two Testaments, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that our Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Bond of Covenant and Overcoming the Powers of Evil in the New Creation
Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good.  Satan introduced evil into the world when he enticed Adam and Eve to rebel against God's will for their lives.  Their temptation led to sin, and sin led to suffering and 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)God did not tempt Adam and Eve to sin (Jam 1:12-15).  By the exercise of their free-will, they chose to break their love relationship with God (Sir 15:11-14).  They placed their selfish will over God's divine will for their lives in surrendering to the temptation to become like gods in their desire to decide for themselves what was good and what was evil (Gen 3:5). 

This same circumstance of temptation and sin in the misuse of free will has plagued men and women throughout salvation history.  For most of us, those temptations that erode our relationship with God are manifested through the daily routine of indifference toward God, leading to failure in sin.  However, God did not abandon humanity to sin.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world to overcome the powers of evil and undo Satan's works, so those who believe in Him might overcome the power of evil in a New Creation (1 Jn 3:8).  During the season of Lent, God calls us to repent our sins and return to the innocence of our new lives in the Sacrament of Baptism by submitting ourselves to the New Covenant in Christ and becoming vessels of His grace.

In the First Reading, we hear how God saved Noah and his family during the Great Flood.  After the Flood, God 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).  And in the Responsorial Psalm, we declare our faith in God's mercy and compassion.  He will forgive our sins and show us the path to truth and justice when we submit to Him in repentance and humility.  With the psalmist, we remember the everlasting covenant relationship God formed with David (2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; 2 Chron 13:5; Ps 89:3-5, 28-30; Sir 45:25).  God fulfilled David's eternal covenant in his descendant and our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth (Lk 1:32; 22:20; CCC 762).

In the Second Reading, St. Peter reminds us that God saved the lives of Noah and his family through the waters of the Flood, as He also saves us through the sacramental waters of Christian Baptism.  In our baptism by water and the Spirit, we pass through the veil that separates us from God.  We become children of God and inheritors of the beautiful mystery of Christ's self-gift.  Through the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has made us a new creation and gives us a new and greater covenant in the Body and Blood of Christ that can lead us to eternal life (Heb 8:6-7; 9:15; 12:24).

The Gospel Reading portrays Jesus as the "new Adam" in whom God begins a renewed creation and a new covenant (CCC 539).  Like Jesus, Adam was the beloved son of God and the "firstborn" son of humanity  (Mk 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:38).  They both lived in the wilderness in harmony with the wild animals where angels served them and where Satan tempted them (Gen 2:19-20; Ez 28:12-14; Mt 4:1, 11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-2).  The first Adam yielded to Satan's temptations, and his fall from grace brought about the reign of sin and death upon the earth.  Like the first Adam, Jesus, in His humanity, was tempted like all humankind, but unlike Adam, He did not yield to Satan's temptations. 

Jesus was victorious over Satan, and through the Sacrament of Baptism, we have a part in His victory (Rom 5:12-14, 17-20).  During Lent, we remember our share in Christ's victory as we renew our baptismal vows.  The rituals and symbols of the Mass remind us that our Savior chose to break the barrier of separation between the sinner and God to make us vessels of grace and reveal the beautiful mystery of the Eucharist in our lives.  We reaffirm 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 [qesheth] 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 [qesheth] appears in the clouds, 15 I will recall [zakar = remember] 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."
[...] = Hebrew term, Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 20-21.

In verses 8-11, God established a covenant with Noah and Creation, vowing never again to destroy the earth by water.  The sign that is a reminder of His covenant oath is the "bow" we call the rainbow that He placed in the heavens as our visual sign (verses 12-15).  When He sees His bow, God remembers (zakar in Hebrew) His covenant promise. 

The Hebrew word translated into English as "rainbow" is qesheth (keh'-sheth), which means "bow" as in a weapon or an instrument for hunting.  This word appears three times in Genesis chapter 9 (9:13, 14, and 16).  The same Hebrew word appears 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 war.  In hanging His "bow" (that stretches from earth to Heaven and horizon to horizon), God demonstrates His desire for peace with humankind and Creation.  He will no longer make "war" upon the earth using water.  The visible sign of His promise and the renewed covenant formed with Noah and all Creation is the seven-colored bow we see in the sky, often after a rainstorm.

Significantly, the rainbow has seven colors.  The number seven is one of the so-called "perfect" numbers in Sacred Scripture, reflecting fullness and perfection, especially spiritual perfection (see the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture). Seven is a number connected to the first Creation event, the Flood, and the renewed creation after the Flood, founded on a renewed covenant.  In its seven-color display, the rainbow recalls the seven days of the first Creation event and symbolizes the oath swearing necessary for a renewed covenant. 

In Hebrew, the number seven is sheba or shava, which also means "oath" or "to swear an oath."  In Hebrew, to swear an oath is to literally "seven one's self."  The number seven figures prominently in Genesis Chapter 1 in the Creation account and the formation of the covenant with Adam:

The number seven also figures prominently in the Flood account:

See the chart on Yahweh's seven Old Testament covenants and the eighth covenant in Christ Jesus.

Through the events of the Great Flood, water became a covenantal symbol of exterior and interior purity.  In 1 Corinthians 10:1, St. Paul described the children of Israel passing through the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) as a baptism/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 immersion became an important part of the Sinai Covenant's religious rituals (Lev 8:6; 14:9; Ez 36:25; Mk 1:4-5).  All of the Old Testament water rituals prefigured Christian baptism in the washing away of the old life of sin and rebirth by the power of water and the Holy Spirit.  In the Sacrament of Baptism, with Christ, we die to sin and death in the waters of baptism, and we resurrect 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). 

Scripture mentions God's "bow"/rainbow 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 will not play another prominent role in Sacred Scripture until Revelation 6:2.  Then, the war bow God hung in the heavens as a sign of the Noahide Covenant will become a symbol of judgment.  It will be taken up again and 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 without stipulations.  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 treaty covenants with stipulations.  In a treaty covenant, the vassal with whom God makes the covenant is responsible for obligations and duties performed to maintain the covenant.  In a royal grant covenant, the responsibility for maintaining the covenant is entirely God's 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).  The covenant signs of the eighth and final covenant in Christ Jesus are the Cross (the true "tree of life"), the Sacraments, and worship on the Lord's Day (Sunday, the New Covenant sabbath).  Sunday is the day after the first Creation's seventh-day Sabbath.  It is the eighth day and the sign of a new creation commemorating the day Jesus Christ rose from death to life.

In the Old Testament, there are seven covenant formations between God and those who enter into a relationship with Him, with each covenant building upon the next.  Both Noah's covenant and the New Covenant in Christ Jesus (the only New Testament covenant) include all the living things of Creation.  All other covenants were between God and individuals (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Aaron and Phinehas, and David).  There is also the corporate covenant with Israel as a unity of one people (Sinai Covenant).  The New Covenant Kingdom of Jesus Christ is also a corporate covenant with the Church as One Body in Christ Jesus.

God purged human wickedness from the earth in the Great Flood; however, because humanity's free-will remained, Noah's son Ham abused this gift, and sin returned.  After the Great Flood, sin continued to grow in men and women's lives, and human wickedness again came to affect all of God's Creation.  The destiny of all living creatures became linked to human destiny for good and or evil.  It is why St. Paul wrote that it is through Christ's saving act of self-sacrifice that not only all humanity but all Creation can be freed from and redeemed by God's grace (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; teach 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:

The title of Psalm 25 attributes it to David.  The psalm is in an acrostic pattern, and each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The response is from verse 10 and reminds us of God's everlasting covenant relationship with David and us through David's descendant, Jesus of Nazareth (2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; Mt 1:1). 

The psalmist petitions the Lord to instruct him in the ways of righteousness; he acknowledges that God is his Savior (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 writes of how God responds to both sinners and the humble.  The humble are those who confess their sins to the Lord.  God instructs and leads the humble and repentant sinner 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 when they passed 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 affirm that Jesus indeed died as a human being.  However, St. Peter writes, death was not victorious over Christ because "he was brought to life in the Spirit."  Peter refers to Jesus' Resurrection in the new and transformed glorified life in which He was free from the weakness of a natural human life (see 1 Cor 15:45).

Then, St. Peter testifies that like all humanity before His Resurrection, Jesus descended into the netherworld or the grave that is Sheol in Hebrew and Hades in Greek.  Sheol/Hades is not the Hell of the Damned, and it will continue as a state of purification until the return of Christ and the Final Judgment (Rev 20:14; CCC 1030-32).  From Abel's death, all humanity was imprisoned, awaiting the coming of the promised Redeemer-Messiah, in Sheol.  However, their condition was not the same.  Sinners were being purified of their sins, and the righteous were in the company of Abraham (in "Abraham's Bosom') waiting for their liberation (see Jesus' description of Sheol in Lk 16:19-31).  Under the Old Covenant, there were no eternal blessings or judgments. Heaven was closed since the fall of Adam (CCC 536, 1026). 

Descending from His tomb to the "prison" of Sheol, Jesus preached the Gospel of salvation to those who waited since the first human deaths in salvation history.  He even preached to those souls who died in the time of Noah (1 Pt 3:18-20).  Sheol/Hades is the poorly translated "hell" of the English version of the Apostles' Creed (see CCC 633 and 1033). 

St. Peter wrote 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 Christian baptism, the faithful are saved through the spiritual waters 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, opened for the first time since the Fall of Adam (CCC 536, 1026).  The Catechism teaches:

At the time of His 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)Since that time, the gates of Heaven have remained open to those made righteous, washed in the atoning blood of Christ Jesus (see Rev 4:1; CCC 1023-1029).  

The Gospel of Mark 1:12-15 ~ The Temptation of the Jesus Christ and the Beginning of His 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' mission continues to unfold:

Satan (whose title means "Adversary") was once an angel created by God to be good.  However, when God tested the angel spirits by giving them the gift of free will, Satan chose to lead a rebellion against God (see Jn 8:44; CCC 391-92).  St. Michael and his army of angels defeated Satan and the fallen angels who joined him, who became demon spirits (Rev 12:7-9).  God exiled Satan and his demon spirits from Heaven and cast them into the "fiery pit," "lake of fire," or Gehenna as Jesus referred to the Hell of the Damned.  Satan, the liar, and deceiver of humankind, 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 Adam and Eve in the first Creation, Satan tested Jesus, but then the experiences differ.  Jesus is the new Adam who resisted Satan's temptations (1 Cor 15:22, 45; CCC 411), and He is the new Adam of the new Creation.  Like Satan tested the first Adam concerning the obedience of his covenant obligation to God in the Garden of Eden, Jesus experienced the test of a covenant ordeal.  A comparison to Adam's test also appears in how God tested the faith and obedience of the children of Israel in their wilderness experience in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy.  Unlike the first Adam, who God exiled from the Garden Sanctuary in Eden, and unlike the Exodus generation, Jesus passed His test.  For their failures in obedience and faith, God condemned the Exodus generation to an exile of 40 years of wandering and the loss of entrance into the Promised Land (Num 14:34-35). 

Like Moses, Elijah, and the covenant people of Israel, Jesus encountered the same ambiguity of the wilderness experience.  The desert wilderness was a place to uniquely experience God as it was for Moses, the children of Israel, and the prophet Elijah at Mt. Sinai.  However, the desert could also be a desolate place to experience a test of faith and obedience, as in the children of Israel's 40-year ordeal as the old generation died and a new generation of holy warriors took their place.  Jesus' victory over temptation, sin, and death would usher in a new Israel and a new Edenic Sanctuary in the true Promised Land of Heaven (CCC 877).  Adam's failure brought death and alienation from God, but the victory of Jesus brought eternal life and union with the Most Holy Trinity!

St. Mark's Gospel does not have as detailed an account of Jesus' Temptation as in Matthew and Luke's Gospels.  However, he provides information that is not in the other two versions in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.  Mark agrees with the other Synoptic Gospel accounts that the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at His baptism (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22) led Him into the desert where He remained for 40 days.  Mark does not give the details of the three times Satan tempted Jesus.  However, in agreement with Matthew's account, he provides the information that angels ministered to Jesus after His ordeal.  The additional 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 unpopulated areas.  And yet, no harm came to Jesus from them because He had power and authority over all the creatures of God's Creation.  The detail that Jesus was among the bests, and they did not harm Him, may intend 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 will remain an incomplete restoration until Christ's Second Coming at the end of time. 

Angels ministered to Jesus because they acknowledged Him as their Lord God.  Perhaps there is also a connection with the angels who accompanied the children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex 14:19).  God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are the primary agents of the action in Jesus' initial experiences until the close of St. Mark's Prologue in verses 1-13, where Jesus reveals His authority over the angels and beasts of the earth.  The chief agent in the action that follows in Mark's Gospel 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." 
We can view verses 14-15 as a summary of Mark's introduction in verses 1-3.  However, we can also interpret Jesus' statement in verse 15 as looking forward to His ministry and a gateway into the narrative that follows. 

Verse 14 mentions the arrest of St. John the Baptist.  The tetrarch Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, arrested John.  Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee and the territory of Perea on the east side of the Jordan River across from Judea, where John was baptizing.  Antipas had an affair with his niece Herodias, his brother's wife, and Herod the Great's granddaughter.  Antipas convinced her to divorce her husband and marry him, even though the Law of Moses forbade such a union if the woman's husband was still living and she had a child (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.  John was arrested and imprisoned in the Herodian fortress of Macherus in Perea (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2 and Mt 4:12-17; 14:3-12).

John the Baptist's arrest was the signal that his ministry had come to an end and Jesus' ministry must begin.  Jesus was now thirty years old (Lk 3:23), the same age when 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 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 covenant of an eternal Kingdom promised to David was coming to fulfillment (2 Sam 7:13-16; 23:5; 2 Chron 13:5; Sir 45:24; Dan 2:44), and now was the time to "repent and believe" (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15).

Lent reminds us that Jesus' self-sacrifice removed the veil of separation between humankind and God that was the consequence of sin.  When the Israelites made the image Golden Calf, breaking the first of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:4-5), it was as great a fall from grace as Adam's sin.  Like Adam, their punishment was separation from continual access to the Divine Presence.  God intended to dwell among them above the Ark of the Covenant, but as a result of their sin, a thick veil/curtain separated the people from God's Divine Presence above the Ark in the Holy of Holies.  When Jesus gave up His life on the Cross, the curtain that separated the people from God's presence was torn from top to bottom, opening the way to a renewed relationship with the Almighty (Mk 15:38). 

In Jesus' resurrection from death, He was victorious over Satan, and through the Sacrament of Baptism and our resurrection to new life, we have a part in that victory (Rom 5:12-14, 17-20).  During Lent, we remember our share in Christ's victory as we renew our baptismal vows.  The rituals and symbols of the Mass remind us that our Savior chose to break the barrier of separation between the sinner and God to make us vessels of grace and reveal the beautiful mystery of the Eucharist in our lives.  We reaffirm 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."

Catechism References (*indicates Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
Genesis 9:8-15 (CCC 2569*); 9:9 (CCC 56*)
1 Peter 3:18-19 (CCC 632*, 633*)
Mark 1:12-13 (CCC 538-9*); 1:12 (CCC 333*); 1:15 (CCC 541, 1423*, 1427)

Michal E Hunt, Copyright © 2015; revised 2021 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.