Fr. Scott Lewis: God never excludes or gives up on anyone

  • February 17, 2018

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

The rainbow has always been a positive and hopeful sign for people. It is indeed beautiful, but it also suggests the heavenly and transcendent. 

There are legends of riches to be found at rainbow’s end, often symbolizing unrealized hopes and dreams. A double or triple rainbow is a pleasing sight and a special gift.

In Genesis, it symbolizes a new covenantal relationship between God and humanity after the flood disaster. God would never wipe out life again by water. But it was far more than that — the covenant was with all living creatures, not just human beings. This reflects an ancient insight that the non-human order of living creatures is included in God’s blessings and in redemption. 

It is also significant that God’s covenant is with all humanity. Even at this point in the master narrative of the Bible, all peoples share in God’s grace. It was the basis for what was sometimes called the “covenant of Noah,” meaning a generic blessing and covenant given to all peoples. 

The writers of the New Testament went on to develop this theme, insisting that inclusion of the gentiles was part of a grand mystery hidden before the world’s foundation. Perhaps the rainbow was established as the sign and reminder of the covenant because people needed to be continually reminded that God’s mercy extends to all. 

The rainbow in our own time can serve as a reminder that no one owns God. We can never exclude a group from God’s grace and mercy, and the universe does not revolve around any people or group. 

We can also be reminded that this blessing and promise was given to non-human creatures, reflecting God’s compassionate concern for all creation. We cannot treat that creation in a callous or exploitive manner, for when we do we are showing contempt for the work of the Creator.

God never excludes or gives up on anyone, and no one is expendable or left behind. According to the tradition, Jesus descended to the realm of the dead to rescue those who perished before His coming. These were the disobedient ones from the time of the flood. The author of 1 Peter even saw the flood itself as an anticipatory symbol of baptism, the ultimate cleansing and purification.

In Mark’s Gospel, we see that after 40 days of testing in the wilderness, Jesus was ready to begin His mission. He began His ministry with a sort of battle cry, focused on several key terms: time, kingdom, repent and good news. 

The apocalyptic divine schedule had been completed. Preparations had been made and the plan was in place. The divine moment had arrived and the reign of God was approaching. God would take complete control of the Earth and all creation and would rule the Earth according to the divine rather than human will. 

Jesus urged people to repentance — metanoia, an inner revolution of the mind and heart. Sin and selfishness were to be cast out and human values replaced with those of God. 

Finally, He invited all to believe in the good news. This good news stood in stark contrast to the proclamations of good news present in oppressive Roman imperial decrees. The good news that He proclaimed was simple: The old world was dying and passing away, and a new world was being born. This world would reflect divine justice, mercy and compassion. 

Although Jesus proclaimed a renewed world with a deepened relationship with God, He made it clear that repentance and belief in this hopeful message was essential for its completion. We face a similar challenge. It is obvious that the old world in which we live is desperately ill and even dying. Violence, injustice, hatred, environmental catastrophes and fear all conspire to rob us of joy, meaning and hope. But the signs of a new world coming to birth are there — the breakdown of old institutions, structures, attitudes and ways of thinking all point to something new dawning on the horizon. 

There are many signs of hope. Keeping hope alive and believing in God’s promises will be the test of faith in our time. The old world does not go quietly into the night and as the old order fought Jesus then, it will resist today. 

The outcome is not in doubt, for the world belongs to God. We need to put the “good news” back into our faith.