First Sunday in Lent
Pope Francis continually calls us to be an open and welcoming Church. Those in leadership should not be a ‘a closed caste’ but lead in going to the uncomfortable edges to be in solidarity with all who are rejected and forgotten. Our response needs to involve reach out where people’s wounds are healed and restored to the whole community without studying the situation and its consequence. He condemns the ‘narrow and prejudiced mentality’ where people cling to religious laws out of fear and reject those who should be ministered to - people ‘who encounter discrimination.
’ He says, ‘We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalised!’…‘Truly the Gospel of the marginalised is where our credibility is at stake, where it is found, and where it is revealed’ and that we should see ‘the crucified Lord’ in the hungry and the unemployed, those who are in prison and ‘even in those who have lost their faith, or declared themselves to be atheists, or turned away from the practice of the faith.’
Today we find rich symbols of God's presence and care for the earth and all upon it. The ‘bow in the clouds’ signifies God's covenant of peace with all creation. The Noah myth also depicts a God who desires the flourishing of life on Earth. This story is one of re-creation where things are put together again by healing and reconciliation. The hovering ‘dove’ bids us come ashore in peace; to cease from our forgetfulness; to end the violence - whether in our bed rooms, homes, work places, community, nation or between nations.
With very few words, Mark tells how Jesus is driven into the wilderness – place of danger and of grace. It is a place where we discover the ‘adversary’ – where there is all that is opposed to God and which hinders people from being faithful to God and all living things. This reality is put in contemporary terms by The Baptismal Ritual in a Latin American Missal: one will not be mastered by or collude with violence, war, hatred, nationalism, racism, greed, selfishness and egoism, individualism, materialism, or any ‘ism’, anger, dishonesty, lack of integrity and so forth.
After being tested in the wilderness, Jesus proclaims the nearness and peace of God’s reign where God is among the poor; among the victims of injustice, and among all who suffer at the hands of others. Lent is our wilderness time and calls for 'a mental revolution', a change of mind and heart (metanoia). We are called to widen our horizons and reset our priorities to promote social transformation – to rethink how to order society by reassessing our values where the vulnerable are at the centre and the wealthy and elite find liberation. God was about to do something entirely new and wonderful — and we can all participate. ‘Metanoia’ is all about hope and a new vision of life where God can break into our present. It means to turn. It means to do something different. Doing something different can make us rethink, re-establish, who we are with God, who we are with others, who we are within ourselves. In two compelling sentences – ‘The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’ – Jesus inaugurates and sums up his mission: to break the shackles of sin that enslave humanity, to put us on a path that liberates us from all oppression and teaches us how to love one another unconditionally. Justice is love made flesh and we are called again and again to seize moments for nonviolence and injustice.
God’s tenacious love is revealed in a ‘rainbow’ - a sign of presence and solidarity. We are called to turn around (repent) and see God present in Jesus and in our lives – a God who is big hearted and all-embracing of people rather than mean-spirited, vengeful, demanding and joy-destroying. The revolution Jesus calls us to a new way of seeing expressed in our relationships with others. Most revolution are violent where the perpetrators claim to be safeguarding the well-being of the nation - where national security takes priority over human security. Jesus' revolution was different. He refused the way of power and violence. His revolution drew on the energy of love rather than hatred. In the wilderness, Jesus lived with the animals – even the dangerous ones - as a sign of peace with all creation.
The image of the Ark tells us we are all in the same boat. This is the message of L’Arche communities where people with disabilities are not swept away by ignorance, forgetfulness and neglect but share life and community. At the UN Conference on Climate Change in Bonn (2017) Fiji’s Prime Minister reminded us that when it comes to climate change we are all in the same boat as we face unprecedented threats from rising sea levels, extreme weather events and changes to agriculture. Our Pacific Island nation neighbours are particularly vulnerable as they try to survive whilst other nations seek to preserve their lifestyles and interests. ‘We are all in same boat’. All who believe in justice were challenged that they have no other choice than to side with these struggling nations.
As Jesus is filled with the Spirit we can imagine him walking onto the beach of ‘new beginnings’. As he calls us to repent and believe the good news, we can take this image of walking onto the beach where he wades into the worlds of forbidden people that are often estranged. He has created a new Ark of sisterhood and brotherhood. He calls us into the good news: the news that God loves this world, loves us, loves all the forbidden people. We are called, with him, to resist the political and religious authorities, by being in solidarity with people outside the normative social structures: women, the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick and the possessed, all people who suffer and wonder if they have any hope.
This is a time to pay attention to the dimensions God requires of a Church big enough to hold all of the human community, with a religion and theology big enough for all the denominations, and all creatures, for a place in the Reign of Peace. We have heard people ask, ‘Will there be room in heaven for the animals? Is there a heaven for the birds and beasts?’ A prior question is: Will there be room on earth for them? Will we learn to live with all creation – humanity, the animals and flora – in harmony with the planet and its passengers? In his recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (‘Brothers and Sisters All’)
Pope Francis uses the story of the Good Samaritan where two people encounter one another through merciful action despite their profound differences due to social norms. He aims to teach us how we can live out our call to ‘brothers and sisters all’ and was repeated in his 2021 Message of Peace: A Culture of Care as the Pathway to Peace. He is calling us to go beyond our divisions to share God’s love, to reveal God’s heart, in working for justice and peace where new social bonds are forged because we share a common humanity. ‘We cannot be indifferent to suffering…Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering (68).’
God is not aloof. Nothing can overcome God's active and saving presence in the world. God’s reign is here in the present. It is not a place but about relationships. Speaking of God’s reign, Jesus’ eyes are fixed on earth- not heaven. The reign of God exposes division as incompatible with what God intends for human community. The rich cannot exploit the poor without also exploiting God. One cannot infringe upon the humanity of another without also infringing upon God. Anyone who would discriminate against another because of religious, sexual identity, sex, racial background or creed needs to be aware that he/she also discriminates against God.
What is our responsibility, as people in covenant with God, for preserving and renewing what has suffered the results of sin? How are we responsible for the safety and well-being of others? What can we do to help the poor of the world overcome disease and hunger? How are we to care for and renew the natural environment itself? How can we protect human life in all its stages? How can we diminish violence in society? What do we need to do to assure the dignity of each person? Lent is a time for listening to all creation which cries out us as it is increasingly threatened. The coming days are for dreaming something new and re-building the ‘Ark’; re-building all that is broken and needs healing. What will we do with the gift of life we have been given?