Readings at Mass
I Peter 3:18-22.
The Kingdom of God comes at a great price. In the 9th chapter of Genesis, the flood has receded, and God tells Noah he will never again send a flood to devastate the whole earth. Now, after the chastening flood, God establishes a covenant with the remnant. Whether or not there were only eight human beings on the Ark is less important than the statement made in the story: a faithful relationship with God is offered to all but regrettably accepted by few.
That so many choose a life on Earth that leads to eternal destruction is demonstration of the power of Satan and the need for regular official periods of reflection and re-dedication. Lent is one such period in the Church’s annual cycle of seasons. The Gospel of Mark is noted for its brevity, so we are told only, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” Other Gospel writers give us more details about the temptations, which we might summarize in today’s vernacular as an offer by Satan to give Jesus a really great life on Earth if he will acknowledge Satan as his lord. Riches, power, authority; these are the temptations Satan threw at Jesus. He also threw in the temptation that currently reigns in our world: skepticism. Satan tested Jesus saying, “You cannot really trust the Father, can you? If you could, you could jump off a high place and he would send his angels to save you.”
Faith is the triumph over skepticism. Throughout the world, we receive a cultural message that we should rely on ourselves, that we should take what we need. The American culture of rugged individualism is taken too far, and we have no understanding of the depths of our communal identity as mankind. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that it was through one man sin entered into the world, and it was through one man love conquered sin. Shortly after sin entered into the world, murder followed. Murder was quickly followed by denial of brotherhood. When Cain asked his question, he implied it was rhetorical: no, he is not his brother’s keeper. In truth, we are brothers, and we have a responsibility to them. Our first responsibility is to see them as brothers. Our second is to care for them as brothers.
A life of faith, as demonstrated by Noah, by Jesus, and by Peter, is a life of trials and temptations. Noah was tempted to abandon his project because it was completely at odds with the lived experience of his entire community. Sometimes our life of faith means we are walking in a direction different than everyone else. But we are not alone. Jesus was ministered to by the angels, and we will be cared for by them, too. So we are not left to our own devices, which is the message of the world. We are left to the remnant living the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. If perhaps that group is not numerically dominant, it is the group that eventually triumphs.
When we watch a movie, we know the producers are not going to let the main actor die. We sort of know the outcome. In the climatic scenes in which he is in peril, we remain confident he will make it to the credits. Our earthly life is no movie, but we know the winning team, the one that will be victorious in the end. When we are dangling from life’s cliffs or careering through life’s traffic, we do not have to be terrified. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We can reach out to God and be helped by his angels. We can be his angels and reach out to our brothers. We can withstand temptation and remain in a covenant relationship with God.