1st Sunday of Lent Year B – Feb. 18, 2024

 

1st Sunday of Lent Year B – Feb. 18, 2024

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

 

Theme: Forty Days of Lent: Time to Resist Satan’s Temptations

This past Wednesday, we celebrated Ash Wednesday’s Mass which marked the beginning of a forty-day penitential time called the Lenten season. Our Holy Mother Church gives us these forty days of Lent so that we might prepare ourselves to celebrate the Paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus (his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension). At Ash Wednesday Mass, we received ashes on our foreheads symbolizing our firm decision to spend this penitential season in Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. By receiving ashes on our foreheads, we expressed our willingness to repent and believe in the Gospel now, not to ignore or postpone it. We were reminded that we are dust, and unto dust, we shall return. Thus, with the Ash Wednesday Mass, we have begun our forty-day penitential journey toward Jesus’s resurrection, which is also our resurrection, in Easter.

Then, today is the first Sunday of Lent. The liturgy of this Mass prepares us to know that Satan who tempted Jesus in the desert continues to tempt us today, especially during this Lenten season. Therefore, we should resist him with all of his temptations and so remain members of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish (see our Gospel). Repentance is a good start to resist Satan. Note, the way God patiently waited for Noah to build the ark which saved him and all the remnants from the flooding water (see the context of our first reading. God is also patiently waiting for us to turn to him in the baptismal water with which the catechumen will be baptized and the rest of us will renew our baptismal promises in Easter (see our second reading).

Indeed, in our Gospel, the evangelist Mark does not focus on the parameters of the temptations. He does not tell us about how many times Jesus was tempted, neither does he specify each type of temptation as Matthew and Luke do. He rather mentions some important elements in his account. First, he informs us that Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit. The verses that immediately precede our passage recount the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. During his baptism, Mark reports that on coming out of the water, he saw the heavens open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him (Mark 1: 9-11). This Spirit who descended on Jesus in his baptism is the same Spirit who drove him into the desert. As we too have joined Jesus in the desert throughout our forty days of Lent, the Spirit of God is with us and sustains us.

Second, Mark says that in the desert, Jesus was among wild beasts and the angels ministered to him. The presence of the wild beast and the ministering angels describe the kingdom of God that Jesus came to inaugurate. It is the kingdom of a new creation where humans and wild beasts live together in perfect harmony, alluding to the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned and were expelled. This is the kingdom of the resurrection in which we, like the angels, will minister to the resurrected Jesus and praise him in Easter.

Third, Mark says that Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. This is the main point in this first Sunday of Lent. The way Satan tempted Jesus in the desert is the same way he temps us today. His purpose in tempting Jesus was to prevent him from starting his ministry because he was fearful of losing people. He knew that the mission of Jesus for which he went to the desert to prepare himself consisted of calling the people to be part of the kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish. The same Satan continues to tempt us today because he knows that the Lenten season prepares us for the Paschal Mystery. Through the baptism (for the catechumens) and the renewal of our baptismal promises in Easter, we will resurrect with Christ and so start a new life in a new creation. Therefore, we are called to resist Satan with all his temptations. 

After completing his forty-day preparation in the desert, Mark says that Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God. Here Mark does not just mean the Good News from God but the Good News about God at work in Jesus Christ. This proclamation of the Gospel of God is Jesus’ first-ever homily in the Marcan Gospel. Then, let us pay attention to the first words of his preaching: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (v. 15, NABRE).

To be members of the new creation of the kingdom of God, which we will celebrate on Easter, Jesus asks us to do two things during these forty days of Lent. The first thing is to repent and the second is to believe in the Gospel. To repent means to abandon all our wrong deeds, confess our sins, and decide to start a new life with the Resurrected Jesus in Easter. To believe in the Gospel means to accept Jesus as the fulfillment of all God’s promises. That is why Jesus tells us that his ministry time is the time of fulfillment. Here he means that all the covenants of the Old Testament between God and his chosen people, including the covenant that God established with Noah that we heard in our first reading, are fulfilled with him. The kingdom of God that the prophets of the Old Testament foretold is now at hand with Jesus. The new life in a new creation is now at hand. Our resurrection with Christ is now at hand in Easter. Therefore, we need to repent all of our sins and believe in the Gospel of Jesus to start a new life in a new creation as Noah and all the remnants did in our first reading.

The sacred author of our second reading says that the flooding at the time of Noah is the prefiguration of our baptism. His interpretation is that as Noah and all the remnants first needed to pass through the water of flooding in the ark before they enjoyed the new life in a new creation, we too need to pass through the water of baptism before we start a new life in a new creation of the resurrection of Jesus in Easter. Saint Peter, in this reading, teaches us that the way God patiently waited for Noah to build the ark, which saved him and all the remnants, is the same way he is patiently waiting for us to turn to Baptism to receive forgiveness of sins and be saved. He reports to us that only “eight in all” were saved through this flooding water. The number “8” is a symbol of the new creation that God established after the flood. This means that those baptized in Christ (including all of us in Easter, we will renew our baptismal promises and the Catechumen will receive Baptism) are resurrected into eternal life and start a new life in a new creation of the resurrection with Christ.

As we have commenced this forty-day journey of repentance which prepares us to celebrate a new life in a new creation in Easter, the liturgy of this first Sunday calls us to resist Satan who every day tries to prevent us from fulfilling our Lenten observances. May this Mass enable us to stay strong spiritually throughout this Lenten Season. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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