Reflections from Fr Claude

First Sunday of Lent

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 bedrooms, workplaces, 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 where the ‘adversary’ is discovered and all that is opposed to God, and which hinders people from being faithful to God and all living things. This 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.

The Noah story or myth is often told in ways that suggest God is violent towards people and animals. It really expresses that human sin ruins both our relationships and can destroy our ‘Common Home.’ It begins with people caught up in cycles of escalating violence as with Cain and Abel. The cycle of violence continues to escalate until human violence threatens our own extinction. When God created the world and humans, God saw that it was very good. God can now look upon the world and its violence and no longer think it is very good and because humans were violent, God is violent. It is difficult to believe that God ever destroyed the earth with a flood. Such a God looks nothing like Jesus. While the suffering of the innocent is often due to sin in the world, suffering is never God's will. The Noah myth depicts God’s desires for the flourishing of all form of life on Earth and relating together in peace and love.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in the 1980’s claimed that ‘God is Christlike, and there is no unChristlikeness in God at all.’ A God who responds to human violence with more violence is not Christlike. On Good Friday, Christ took human violence upon himself and offered forgiveness in return. In the resurrection, he did not offer revenge but offered peace to those who betrayed him and called his followers to continue in the way of nonviolent love and justice.


Humans have a violence problem – not God.  Mark, as usual, is very brief. Mark does not tell us how Jesus was tempted. This silence allows us to explore whatever we might dwell upon that keeps us from what is best for us and others. The Satan in the wilderness is generally thought of as the ‘tempter’ but the word ‘satan’ literally means ‘accuser’ or the ‘spirit of accusation.’ Jesus was tempted by the spirit of accusation to follow in the ways of accusation - to spread hostility and violence against others. Jesus revealed to us the way of God’s nonviolent love. We can unite in the spirit of accusation against others or unite in the spirit of love. This does not mean sitting back watching as violence overtakes the world. It confronts that violence. In the wilderness, Jesus confronted the principle of satanic accusation and violence. He was tempted to choose a different path by becoming ‘king’ not through love, but through accusation, hostility, and violence. Whilst resisting the voice of satanic accusation, he did not avoid violence. He boldly told the truth about it. ‘Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.’ We are reminded every day of the flood of violence where a grandmother is murdered in a car park; the violence in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and Ethiopia; the 100,000 people have been killed, injured, or missing in the atrocity in Gaza and the West Bank whilst many religious leaders and political leaders remain silent or blame the victims of the violence. They enable more hostility and violence rather than striving for more compassion and love.


When Jesus emerges from the silence of wilderness, he walks into a cacophony of voices calling for healing, acceptance, and love. 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. 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’s tenacious love is revealed in a ‘rainbow’ - a covenant with all creation, a sign of presence and solidarity. The revolution Jesus calls us to a new way of seeing expressed in our relationships with others. Most revolutions are violent and claim to safeguard the well-being of the nation above any other. Jesus' revolution was different. He refused the way of power and violence by drawing on the energy of love rather than hatred. Being in the wilderness with the animals was itself 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 forgotten, ignore or neglected but share life and community. In 2017, Fiji’s Prime Minister reminded us that we are all in the same boat as we face unprecedented threats of climate change. ‘We are all in same boat’. We may wonder how all the animals got along in that ark for 40 days and nights – many natural predators. It could have been a stinky mess. They had to change so they could all survive. We are in this ark together. Every community has conflicts, but we are called to live the message of love, forgiveness, and mercy and seek a more just world. That is the transformation we need.


Jesus calls us to believe that we have a place with God and one another. We are called to embrace the good news that God loves this world, loves us, loves all the forbidden people and resides in forbidden places. We are called to be 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 the whole human community, with a religion and theology big enough for all the denominations, and all creatures, for a place in the Reign of Peace. People ask, ‘Will there be room in heaven for the animals? 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?  Pope Francis in various ways calls us to live out our call to be ‘brothers and sisters all.’ In his 2021 Message of Peace: A Culture of Care as the Pathway to Peace, we were called to go beyond our divisions to share God’s love, to reveal God’s heart, in working for justice and peace by forging new social bonds because we share a common humanity. That means, ‘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).


What is our responsibility 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 all that is broken and needs healing. What will we do with the gift of life we have been given? It is a time of creative transformation where we let go of what prevents us from experiencing God’s presence and awaken to God’s new possibilities for us and our communities. We need to move to life-supporting actions and attitudes.






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