Noah’s Ark (1846), by the American folk painter Edward Hicks. Photo from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: In this world, no one is excluded from God’s care

  • February 15, 2024

First Sunday of Lent (Year B) Feb. 18 (Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)

Rainbows are beautiful to behold and often they are double or even triple in nature. Many hopes and dreams attach themselves to the rainbow — riches, happiness, acceptance and a better world someplace else. But it serves another purpose in Genesis — it is a memo or reminder to God of the covenant with Noah and his descendants. It reminds God not to destroy the Earth by water again — as if God needed reminders!

There are two extraordinary aspects to this covenant. First of all, this is long before the call of Abraham — God’s promise is to all of humanity. God’s care and concern excludes no one. Even more than that, however, is the fact that the covenant is made with all living creatures and with the Earth itself. The Earth and all its creatures are precious to God.

This Noahide covenant, so often overlooked, has special relevance in our own time. We face environmental crisis and even catastrophe, but there are far too many people who do not see this as a spiritual issue. Some have contempt for Laudato si’ and similar documents. True environmental care and awareness is not just a fad but a profound spirituality. Showing reverence and respect for creation is one of the many ways in which we reverence and respect God.

There is more. The Noahide covenant established the basic universal laws that all peoples are required to observe. There are no surprises — people are not to worship idols, curse God, murder, commit adultery or sexual immorality, steal or eat flesh torn from a living animal. They are also to establish courts of justice. Those who observe these precepts are right with God, regardless of nation, station in life or religion. These are the laws that are written in human hearts and they are the basis for authentic humanity. Our world needs to be bound together, not torn apart. Perhaps it would help to focus on what we have in common rather than how we differ. Come to think of it, the rainbow is more a reminder to us to remember the abundant kindness of God towards all creation.  

This desire to save all was evident in the tradition of Holy Saturday. According to the account, Jesus descended to the realm of the dead and taught the souls who were there. He liberated Adam and Eve, as well as the righteous people of the Old Testament. These are theological ways of expressing that no one gets sidelined or left behind in God’s plan of salvation. In a sense, humanity began anew after the experience of the flood. Baptism is a way of stepping into a new life that is gifted to us by the resurrection of Christ.

But baptism is not a free or smooth ride. As soon as Jesus was baptized and received the affirmation from Heaven, the Spirit “drove” Him into the wilderness. The Greek word that is used is quite emphatic — it was not a gentle invitation. The wilderness was traditionally the realm of demons and savage animals. It was also the place where people wrestled with darkness and relied on the presence of God and angelic servants to sustain and protect them. Jesus was put to the test — a real test, not merely the appearance of one — and was able to face down the temptations presented by Satan.

Mark’s version of the temptation of Christ is very sparse and terse, unlike the description of the verbal battle Jesus had with Satan in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Then and only then was Jesus ready to begin His ministry of teaching, preaching, healing and revealing the nature of God. If we take our own baptism seriously, temptations, struggles and challenges will come our way. They are not punishment or signs that we are failing. On the contrary, they are affirmations from God, who deems us capable and worthy of the challenges.

We can be sure that we are being molded and prepared for something greater, and that always involves the greatest good for the greatest number of souls. We begin our journey away from focus on the self towards a deep awareness and experience of God’s presence and God’s love for us.