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John R. DonahueMarch 04, 2000

From Lent to Pentecost the readings are determined by the seasonal feasts. In all cycles the first two Sundays present the temptation and transfiguration of Jesus, which form a virtual epitome of the Christology of the season. Jesus, taking on human form, humbled himself even to death and was "tested" by his Father, yet this was a presage of his glorification. For the third to the fifth Sundays, two options are available. Churches with catechumens preparing for baptism can choose the great "coming to faith" stories of the Samaritan woman (John 4), the man born blind (John 9) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11) from Cycle A, or follow those chosen for year B or C. In year B, the final three Sundays, all from the Gospel of John, focus more intensely on the paschal mystery. The Old Testament readings present four cardinal figures and events of saving history (covenants with Noah, Moses at Sinai, and Jeremiah’s promise of the new covenant, the testing and blessing of Abraham). Compressed in the Lenten readings are themes, motifs and figures that resound throughout Scripture. The Lenten pilgrimage is best made with the Bible as a guidebook.

Today’s Old Testament reading concludes the long story of the great flood (Gen. 6:99:29) when all living creatures apart from those saved by Noah are destroyed. It occurs within the primeval history (Genesis 111), which tells how God created the world and a community of men and women with a destiny to care for the earth and experience divine intimacy. Tragically humanity turns away from God, inaugurating a rhythm of human sin and self-destructiveness, which is countered by renewed blessing from God. But out of the waters of destruction a new beginning emerges when God makes a covenant with "you and your descendants after you, with every living creature that was with you: all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with you in the ark...that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood."

This Noachian covenant is a universal promise to all living creatures prior to their division by race, religion and language (Gen. 11:1-9). The covenant and rescue through water foreshadow baptism (1 Pt. 3:20-21). By embracing all non-human life, the covenant is a mandate calling for deep respect toward all people and care for our earth. God promises that the world will not be destroyed by water; there is no assurance that human misuse will not bring this about. This covenant is also the foundation of the particular covenants that will unfold and captures the marriage of universalism and particularism in biblical revelation: Abraham will be the father of many nations; Israel after Sinai is to be a light to the nations; Jesus will enact a new covenant that will benefit the whole of humanity.

Mark’s brief narrative of the temptation of Jesus, followed by his opening proclamation, is a condensed anticipation of major themes of his Gospel. The traditional term temptation is inaccurate, since the original Greek means "tested" or "subjected to a trial." This evokes the wider theme of God’s testing of the people of Israel (also like Jesus in the desert), the servant of Isa. 53, and the suffering just person, who though tested by God remains faithful and is called a child of God (Wis. 2:12-20; 5:1-23). In this first Lenten Gospel the church portrays a Jesus who "because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Heb. 2:18).

Jesus leaves the desert to proclaim the "good news," a term used in secular Greek for the public proclamation of a major event (for example, the visit of an emperor) and in Second Isaiah to proclaim the liberating love of God for the returning exiles (Isa. 52:7; 61:1). The news is good because God’s "reigning" is at hand. This recalls the image of God as the king who protects an endangered people, has special concern for the vulnerable and judges violence and injustice (Psalms 72 and 95100). Mark does not tell us just what God’s reign involves. Only by following the way of Jesus through the Gospel, hearing his word and adopting his values can a person understand more deeply the mystery of God’s reign (Mk. 4:10). The beginning of this journey through the Gospel and through Lent calls for metanoiarepentance or a second look at lifeand belief, an act of trust in the God who guides the unfolding journey.

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