During the season of Lent we are called to deepen our awareness of the presence of God and our relationship with the covenant keeping God. We are a people sought out by God, a people formed by God and a people with a special love relationship with God. On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church invites us to renew our covenant with God.
The first reading today is from the Book of Genesis and recounts the establishment of the Covenant with Noah and his descendants. Many times in the history of the Chosen People, God has made Covenants. These Covenants mark important events in the life of the Chosen People and are a sign of God’s choosing this people and remaining faithful to His choice. What happens always is that God remains faithful to the Covenant and we do not. Yet we are called to look back at these Covenants and to let God change our unfaithfulness to faithfulness.
The covenant with Noah is a covenant of renewal, recreation and restoration. This covenant was sealed with a rainbow as a sign of God’s faithfulness. It was also a reminder that God can, and will judge sin (Gen 9, 8- 15; 2 Pt 2, 5). The covenant too can also be taken as a means of starting afresh, especially during this season of Lent. God is still in the habit of giving us every opportunity to make a fresh start, because He does not delight in the death of the sinner, but that the sinner should turn from sin and live.
In the second reading, Peter reminds us of God’s New Covenant with us through Christ. He paid the great price in order to restore us to God. In other words, Christ renewed and strengthened the covenant with his own blood. He did this by opening the spring of baptism through which we were purified and restored to God.
This is the renewal of the covenant on God’s Part. Hence, all of us who were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ have taken part in this new covenant. Each year, the church, the bride of Christ, provides us a new opportunity through the period of Lent to reflect upon this covenant. She also gives us the opportunity to renew our commitment to it. Hence, Paul reminds us that: “Now is the favorable time; the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6, 2).
What is the significance of Jesus spending 40 days and nights of solitude, prayer and fasting in the Judean wilderness? In the Old Testament 40 days was often seen as a significant period of testing and preparation for entering into a covenant relationship with God. In the days of Noah, God judged the earth and destroyed its inhabitants in a great flood because of their idolatry and total rejection of God. Noah and his family were spared because they obeyed God and took refuge in the ark for 40 days. When the flood subsided God made a covenant with Noah and promised that he would not destroy the human race again. Jesus came to fulfill that promise.
The word tempt in English usually means to entice to sin or wrong-doing. The scriptural word here also means test in the sense of proving and purifying someone to see if there are ready for the task at hand. God tests his servants to see if they are fit to be used by him.
God tested Abraham to prove his faith. The Israelites were sorely tested in Egypt before God delivered them from their enemies. Jesus was no exception to this testing. Satan, in turn, did his best to entice Jesus to choose his own will over the will of his Father in heaven. Despite his weakened condition, due to fatigue and lack of food for 40 days, Jesus steadfastly rejected Satan's subtle and not so subtle temptations. Where did Jesus find his strength to survive the desert's harsh conditions and the tempter's seduction? He fed on his Father's word and found strength in doing his will. Satan will surely tempt us and will try his best to get us to choose our will over God's will. If he can’t make us renounce our faith or sin mortally, he will then try to get us to make choices that will lead us, little by little, away from what God wants for us.
God never tempts people beyond their strength. But He permits us to be tempted. Why? Here are the five reasons given by the Fathers: i) so that we can learn by experience that we are indeed stronger than the tempter; ii) to prevent us from becoming conceited over having God’s gifts; iii) that the devil may receive proof that we have completely renounced him; iv) that by the struggle we may become even stronger; and v) that we may realize how precious is the grace we have received.
Concerning the Kingdom of God, the prophets announced that God would establish a kingdom not just for one nation or people but for the whole world. God sent us his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, not to establish an earthly kingdom but to bring us into his heavenly kingdom - a kingdom ruled by justice, truth, peace, and holiness. The kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus' mission. It's the core of his Gospel message.
In announcing the good news of the Gospel Jesus gave two explicit things each of us must do in order to receive the kingdom of God: repent and believe. Repent means to turn away from sin and wrong-doing in order to follow God's way of love, truth, and moral goodness. When we submit to God's rule in our lives and believe in the Gospel message the Lord Jesus gives us the grace and power to live a new way of life as citizens of his kingdom. He gives us grace to renounce the kingdom of darkness ruled by pride, sin, and Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44) and the ruler of this present world (John 12:31). Repentance is the first step to surrendering my will and my life to God.
Repentance means to change - to change my way of thinking, my attitude, my disposition, and the way I choose to live my life - so that the Lord Jesus can be the Master and Ruler of my heart, mind, and will. Whatever stands in the way of God's will and plan for my life must be surrendered to him - my sinful pride, my rebellious attitude, and stubborn will to do as I please rather than as God pleases. If I am only sorry for the consequences of my own sinful ways, I will very likely keep repeating the same sins that control my thoughts and actions.
True repentance requires a contrite heart and true sorrow for sin (Psalm 51:17) and a firm resolution to avoid the near occasion of sin. The Lord Jesus gives us the grace to see sin for what it really is - a rejection of his love, truth, and wisdom for our lives and a refusal to do what he says is right and good for us. His grace brings pardon and freedom from guilt, and breaks the power of bondage to sin in our lives through the strength and help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. If we yield to the Holy Spirit and not to our sinful inclinations, we will find the strength and help we need to turn away from all wrong-doing and whatever else might keep us from living in his truth and love.
Let’s look at repentance from six points of view: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?
The Who of repentance is you (that includes me). You need to change, though maybe not entirely. What in yourself do you need to turn away from, what image of yourself do you need to turn toward? The “What” is whatever behaviour or attitudes you know you need to avoid, or cultivate? The When involves our use of time, turning away from wasting time, turning toward the “time of fulfillment?” The Where concerns circumstances, often called “occasions of sin,” which we turn away from. At the same time we can turn towards what we might call “occasions of grace,” or “occasions of life.” How? That’s up to you. You know better than I do what might best help you along the path of repentance. But do not neglect the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Why? St. Peter gives an excellent reason: “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” If we are not led to God, then Christ suffered for us in vain. What would be the point?
To believe is to take Jesus at his word and to recognize that God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to free us from bondage to sin and harmful desires. God made the supreme sacrifice of his Son on the cross to bring us back to a relationship of peace, friendship, and unity with our Father in heaven. He is our Father and he wants us to live in joy and freedom as his beloved sons and daughters. God loved us first and he invites us in love to surrender our lives to him.
Do you believe in the Gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ - and in the power of the Holy Spirit who transforms each one of us into the likeness of Christ?
Prayer – Lord, give us the courage to be truly repentant and ask for forgiveness for all the moments we have not been faithful to our covenant with you. May we strive to overcome every occasion of sin, and with the aid of the Lenten observances may we deepen our relationship with God. Amen!!!