“Purifying Ourselves through Confrontation”
First Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
Genesis 9: 8-17
Psalm: Psalm 25: 1-11
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 9-15
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
The Holy season of Lent begins the second cycle of the Church’s Liturgical year. This second cycle is called the Cycle of Life. We have just gone through the first cycle of Light – Advent, Christmas, and the Sundays after Epiphany – and it centered on Jesus Christ. We now come to the second cycle of the liturgical year which is the cycle of Life - Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time – which is also centered on Jesus Christ.
As the people of God who are called to know God and to make Him known, we must awaken our sensitivities and our senses to the message and to the rhythm and to the beat of life within the liturgical calendar. This calendar was designed by the Fathers of the Church to order and to shape our lives. It is not just for religion or for vestments; it is for life eternal.
The world we live in, society today in general, has a different rhythm and beat. Its sound seems so alluring and inviting, yet, in reality it is formless and void. The Lord calls the Church, His Body, to blow the trumpet in Zion, to sound the alarm on His holy mountain (the Church) so that this sound will resound and will rouse the people of God to live, move, and have their being in Him. This sound is what the Liturgical Calendar is all about. Every detail, every word spoken, every action, every color and design was all to train our senses to observe the smallest and minute details of the spiritual movement of our lives.
Today, we feel numb in our lives. We are readily lured to things that have no meaning in our lives because we have forgotten to hear the beat, the trumpet of the Lord. Lent is the season to bring us back to our senses. Having received the gift of God’s Son in the season of Christmas and Epiphany, we are made aware of the relevance and the connection of why He came to this world and to our lives today.
Our gospel today in Mark 1:9-15 presents to us three scenes in the life of our Lord. We will focus on the first two scenes for our homily today. The first scene describes to us our Lord’s baptism. Herein at once is the connection of Christ’s life to ours. Jesus was baptized not because He is the Son of Man, but because He is the Son of God. As the Son of God, He is the eternal, the Word that created the universe. He is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. But just as He is the Eternal Son of God, He was manifested as the Son of Man, and His baptism signals a wonderful event that ushers in the fulfillment of God’s plan for mankind.
In verses 9-10, “And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” The adverb “immediately” suggests a sense of urgency; a quality of action that shows Divine excitement. God was excited to unfold the plan that He had in the beginning. God the Father was so eager to bring into fulfillment His wonderful plan for mankind. God is so keen, so interested, and so avid for you and me. He was so eager that the “heavens opened” which literally meant that the “the heavens were torn open” by the force of the love of God. And the Spirit, like a dove descending upon Him. God was excited. Just as it says in Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord rejoices (takes delight in) you with joy.” God is delighted when He sees us; when He sees us come to Church to meet Him.
Notice the creature or form of a dove which Mark records as the form of the Holy Spirit Who descends upon Jesus in His baptism. It is the same creature that Noah released from the ark after the flood which returned to the ark with an olive leaf in its beak (Genesis 8:11). Just as the waters of the flood at Noah’s time was a destruction of the sinfulness of man, so the waters of our baptism releases us, cleanses us, and destroys the ravages of sin in our lives. And just as the waters in Noah’s time flowed out to signal a new life for Noah and his family, so also the waters of baptism became a means of grace to empower us with the new life in the Spirit.
St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Such were some of you (referring to the unrighteous and sinners); but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” We are not in bondage to sin anymore, and this is the freedom we have because of the first scene in the gospel, which is the baptism of Jesus.
The second scene is another one where the word “immediately” appears. It shows a consistent pattern of eagerness, enthusiasm. However, the gospel account continues to describe the scene as follows in verse 12, “Immediately the Spirit impelled (drove, forced) Jesus to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts...” It was forty days without the convenience of a home, of the food the one always wanted and of not talking to anyone. Remember, it was the same forty days that it took in Noah’s time for the rain and the flood to cleanse earth. It was the same forty days it takes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
But wait a minute, there must be something wrong here! Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? How odd! How absurd and strange! And for FORTY DAYS?! We have a notion that Christianity, in this life on earth, will be a life where we will live happily ever after. We expect comfort and absolutely no conflict. We thought that just accepting Jesus Christ will make us happy not until the time the usher will tell us to seat in another place; or not until a Deacon or a Priest might not be able to greet you; or not until we are ask to give an offering. We begin to think that the Mass is boring that we fall asleep during the homily. We expect comfort and absolutely no conflict.
But this is what LENT is all about! It is about living in the wilderness. Lent opens our eyes to see life as we face it each day. Every waking hour of our lives, we face a wilderness. The wilderness is a place of barrenness and uncertainty. There is no path to lead us to our destination. There is nothing to tell us where to go. The wilderness is an awful place filled with wild beasts that is ready to attack us, lurking and waiting to pounce on us at every opportunity to steal our faith, to make us helpless, to sow and to plant evil desires in our hearts and ill feelings against another. There is bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, sloth, and laziness. The wilderness is there to lure us with the passing pleasures of sin, with the temporal satisfaction provided by material goods.
Do you remember the first time that you had a NOKIA 3310 cellphone? We thought that it was the best in technology until a few months after and there came a better version. It is all temporary because the wilderness is a place of unquenchable thirst, where the only water to satisfy is salt water. We thirst for things to happen only to realize that even when we obtain them, we thirst for more. The thirst never goes away.
But wait, this is the picture of the wilderness when we are alone and when we try to live life on our own strength and ability. Jesus was not in the wilderness alone against Satan. The gospel accounts that angels were ministering to Him. The Spirit was with Him. Jesus drew from the well of unlimited power of God; that limitless source of strength; the unlimited well of living water which springs up to eternal life! Though life might seem to be a wilderness where we are faced with one conflict after another, remember that The Spirit of God is with us to refresh and renew our vigor and vitality!
We were with 17 young men last Monday. It was the traditional outdoor activity of our high school men. The men were, at the start of the day, filled with excitement and zeal. Then we started to trek toward the peak of the mountain, 2500 feet above sea level, After reaching the peak, a brief rest, and continuing, after about 5 – 6 hours of lung busting, heart pounding, muscle aching, throat drying trek/hike, the young men were exhausted. We reached a small pond with water cascading from the mountain. The men did not wait for any signal and they took off their clothes and jumped into the pond of refreshing, cool, energizing spring. They were immediately filled with energy again, shouting, rejuvenated, and wild as if new life was injected into them. What a revitalizing and invigorating feeling they had!
The wilderness might be barren and filled with beasts, but the Spirit of life gives us Divine energy. We might become thirsty and tired with life. We have that same Source to draw from. Our baptism not only signals the beginning of new life, but it also points to the times of refreshing that we need when we are wearied with life. The Source of the water of life is Christ. Let us not rush to Easter because there is a reason for being in the wilderness for forty Days.
Jesus is the Living Word of God that restores our souls. Let us not take lightly the Word given through Holy Scriptures and the Sacrament given every Sunday. We have the Word in written form that brings eternal life to us, the Word of the Spirit of God. Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” In John 15:3, Jesus said, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Every day, we are exposed to dirt, physically and mentally, but it is only the Word of God that will cleanse us. It is the Spirit that gives life for the flesh profits nothing. In Ephesians 5:26, St. Paul says “So that He (Christ) might sanctify her (His Bride), having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word.”
Let us begin our Lenten journey with a resolve to let the Word of God richly dwell in us so that we reach Easter with a different insight. We will begin to move not in the beat of the world, but in the beat of God – the trumpet of Jesus being blown – and we will see the living of life the way God intended it to be lived.