FEBRUARY 18TH, 2018: FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
"See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
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.
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."
"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:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall 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."
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.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison,
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 water.
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,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
After John had been
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Though today’s Genesis passage mentions the Bible’s first covenant, I’m afraid some of us Catholics don’t know the first thing about Scriptural covenants. We’ve heard the word and know it has something to do with “things” between us and God, but that’s about as far as we go.
Covenants are at the heart of both biblical theology and our liturgical practices. The reason, for instance, we take from the cup during the Eucharist revolves around a covenant Jesus presumes we’ve made with him. A covenant was also why the early church originally didn’t permit non-Jews to become Christians.
A covenant is basically an agreement, usually between two or more parties. (Although today’s covenant with Noah and his family is made solely by Yahweh.) It’s similar to contracts people enter into with one another. Each covenant has two main elements: the parties enter into it freely, and each accepts the responsibilities the agreement demands. Every semester, for instance, I sign a contract with the community college at which I teach. I agree to the terms the college sets forth for its employees – spend X number of hours in the classroom, regularly evaluate my students, and present my subject in a scholarly way. On the college’s part, it agrees to pay me the ultra-low wages adjunct professors earn at many such institutions.
The most frequently entered into covenant in our culture is marriage.
Knowing these basics about covenants, it’s significant the original Israelites go against the practices of their pagan neighbors and conceive of their unique relationship with Yahweh as a covenant agreement. God has responsibilities; they have responsibilities. They have certain things they can expect from Yahweh; Yahweh has certain things he/she can expect from them. Neither can treat the other at whim.
In the case of Noah and his family, Yahweh is bound by his responsibility never again to send “a flood to destroy all mortal beings.” And as most covenants have an outward sign to show the parties have entered into the agreement – a wedding ring in the case of marriage – Yahweh makes the rainbow the outward sign the earth won’t again have to worry about such a disaster.
There are various Yahweh/Israelite covenants throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Abraham makes an initial one in Genesis 15, and later, Moses, in the name of all Israelites, enters into the most famous of all biblical covenants on Mt. Sinai.
The unknown author of I Peter understands that Jesus has modified those standard Jewish covenants to include dying and rising with him. If we fulfill our responsibility to die for others in the ways he died for others, he’s “obligated” to give us a share in the same life he achieved.
Mark’s Jesus, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too interested in that new life taking place only after our physical deaths. He’s concerned with the unique life Jesus offers us here and now. Scholars are convinced the “kingdom of God” Jesus wants his followers to join him in experiencing revolves around God being present and working effectively in our everyday lives. But in order to reach that point, we must also join him in “repenting:” in doing a 180-degree switch in our value system.
Most of us don’t realize we have a covenant responsibility to constantly change the way we look at people and situations around us. Such a readjustment of our values isn’t something we do for “extra credit;” it’s at the heart of our faith. Each of us agreed to that responsibility either at our baptism or when we first made a free choice of accepting the faith of Jesus.
One of these days we’ll explore the outward sign of Jesus’ covenant – receiving from the Eucharistic cup. Until then . . . .