Two movies speak to the readings today. Noah more or less literally portrays how Noah and his family are snatched out of a wicked world to hopefully begin anew, almost against Noah’s own worldview. Hunger Games — The Mocking Jay, featuring Jennifer Lawrence, touches on the archetypal themes of good versus evil, only in this movie, the non-ending implies that evil triumphs over good, as we hear the words, “There is no more District 12.”
Today’s liturgy invites us not just to believe that good triumphs over evil, but to live the Good News of a new life through faith and repentance.
The first two readings build on the story of Noah. In Genesis, God makes a covenant relationship with Noah and his family. They were to live with God in a new way, on a renewed earth. Interestingly, that covenant was made with all the animals and all of creation — a reminder that the original “bible” or revelation was the book of creation itself. Richard Rohr calls this the first religion, or “awe-ism.” The sign of this covenant would be a rainbow and the promise that there would never be another flood.
St. Peter in the second reading adds that the people of Noah’s day refused to believe. That is the same sin as the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who refused to believe in him as Son of God. Their unbelief led to his innocent death for our sins; his descent into hell or Hades to bring salvation to the justified dead of the Old Testament, and to open up for us a new way of life that would be initiated not by a flood, but by the waters of baptism. The proof and the pledge of this is nothing other than the resurrection of Jesus, which fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament, and vindicated all of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament.
In the Gospel, Jesus, the faithful one, the New Israel, is tested in the desert like the old Israel. Luke tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus there — it was something he had to do to be the new faithful Israel. The expression “forty days” means “the time that it takes to bring something to completion, to fullness.” Jesus stayed there until Satan had exhausted his efforts to tempt him to betray who he was, the divine Son of God, by using his divine power in a selfish way, and of course, Satan was unsuccessful — Jesus stayed true to his relationship with God and to his humanity.
Having proven himself to be the New Israel, the faithful Son of God by both his baptism and the temptations in the desert, Jesus went up to Galilee after John was arrested. Galilee in the gospels, unlike Jerusalem, symbolizes the time in Jesus’ ministry when all went well, when he was accepted by the people, performed miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead, preached and taught throughout the region.
His message is key to living in the reign of God: repent and believe. We are to put our total and complete trust in him as the Son of God, the New Israel who alone can give us that new life that the flood could only symbolize. We are to believe in him who is the true victor over evil. That is why the Gospel is good news, or evangelion in Greek. Warriors who were victorious in war used to send messengers ahead of them to announce the good news, evangelion, of their victory in battle. Well, this is the true good news about the real victor in battle, Jesus the new Josuah, who brings his people into the Promised Land of a new life with God, free from sin and darkness.
We are also to repent. In Greek the word is metanoia, which means “putting on a higher mind.” It is the opposite of paranoia which means to have a “divided mind,” to be of two minds, to be confused and without direction. To repent means to change our whole way of being, to let go of any sin and darkness in our lives, to be the best person we can possibly be, to put on our highest mind.
This is an invitation to experience this good news, this new way of life, through faith and repentance, illustrated by the following story:
A psychiatric nurse was told the lurid history of a certain patient who had committed a terrible crime, had served his time and now was sent to the hospital to die. He did not want anyone to know what he had done and could not believe that God could forgive his crime, so he resisted any attempt at reconciliation. The nurse showed him every courtesy. She tucked him in at night, provided him with little favours, remembered his birthday, asked about his family, wrote him notes on her day off and developed a friendship with him. Near the end, his closest friend came to see him and begged him to be reconciled with God. He persisted in his belief that God could not forgive him. In desperation, the friend reminded him of the love the nurse had shown him and suggested that God could do the same. The man replied that if the nurse knew what he had done, she too would reject him. The friend confessed that he had told the nurse his whole story when he entered so she knew what he had done. The man was stunned and astonished. He broke down into tears, saying that if she could love him knowing all that he had done, then God too could love him.
The eucharist is a living out of our baptism, a renewal of our covenant with God through the Body and Blood of Jesus, an act of repentance, and a deep act of faith. It is also a celebration of the kingdom of God in our midst.
May our celebration deepen our faith, enhance our repentance, and help us to live and proclaim this Good News.
Lavoie, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.