HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B

 HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 24; 1Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:

Repentance and Destruction 

The first reading today presents us with the covenant God entered with Noah. The background to this covenant was the flood. The flood took place for two reasons: Gen. 6:5 states that, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” secondly, the flood took place because the “The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Gen. 6:2). These “sons of God” were “bene elohim” which is applies to angels. So, there was a physical union between angels and human women. The unnatural offspring of this union were the “Nephilim” (Gen. 6:4). The word Nephilim means fall. So God could simply not allow this corrupt offspring to exist on the earth and so he sent the flood. Only those in Noah’s ark were saved.

Afterwards God desired friendship with man. One of the ways this friendship is offered is through covenants. In Gen 9:11 God said to Noah and his sons “As for me I am establishing my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”. The rainbow was given as a reminder that God desires friendship with humanity. Beloved, God made a covenant not to destroy the world again, what commitment can we make not to equally destroy the earth. How are we committed to caring for the earth? The earth is our common home, we must care for it. It begins by caring for your compound, your hygiene and maintenance of our environment.  

The flood prefigures baptism. Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the flood that cleansed the earth of sin. In the second reading; 1 Peter 3: 20-21 St. Peter tells us that this prefigures our baptism.  Just as Noah called many into the ark many of us are still being called to the waters of repentance and the tears of penance. Only those who shall embraced baptism shall be saved.  The flood brought about new life for Noah and his family, in the same vein the waters of Baptism bring us to new life. So the saving of Noah through the waters of the flood prefigures baptism, ‘which saves us now’   During Lent we prepare ourselves for this new life and those that are to be baptized embrace this new life.

At the beginning of Lent we hear the call of Jesus: ‘Repent and believe in the Good News’ (Mk. 1:15). Beloved, the old world was destroyed by the flood because of wickedness. Sin brought destruction to the people in the time of Noah. Today humanity continues to exhibit wickedness. Jesus says to us today repent. Beloved, Luke13:5 says if we don’t repent we shall likewise perish.

The gospel also narrates the temptation of Jesus. If Jesus was tempted we too shall equally be tempted. But if we must overcome like Jesus we must learn from him. We must learn to prepare ourselves. We must learn the ways of fasting, abstinence and prayer. In the wilderness, he exhibited this threefold character. Any Christian who wants to defeat satan must be able to fast, abstain and pray. Many have been lured by food, others are down because they couldn’t abstain and some are struggling because they could not pray. Beloved, let us learn from Jesus how to deal with the world.

Like the old ark the Church is the new ark. The old ark was surrounded by dangers, and the destructive flood. In the same vein, the Church – the new ark, is surrounded with so many dangers; enemies from outside and inside that want to bring the Church down. Peter says in 1 Pet. 5:8 that the devil is a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour. Beloved, like all those in the Ark we must remain in the Church for safety and preservation. Many left the Church because of the dangers and stories around the church and today they have been swept away by the flood. Beloved, we must learn to remain in the Church come what may. The Church today is the Ark of the Covenant. To be saved, you must enter the Ark.  While Noah entered people laughed at him; but when the flood came the story was different. Those laughing at you now because you are in the Church we get to see your triumph and marvel.

Fr. Paul Oredipe: 

TEMPTATION and REPENTANCE   IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

 “Repent, and believe the Good News”   “Reform your lives and believe the good news” 

Today – the first Sunday in Lent – the Church has given us a very short and direct Gospel passage.  Yet, in that short space we find two themes very appropriate to this season of Lent: temptation and repentance. 

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is always a narrative of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  This year we read the account given by Mark.  In other years, we read the account of Matthew and Luke.  Among all these various accounts of the temptation of Jesus, the account of Mark is the shortest.  As we know, his Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels.  In fact, Mark tells the story of the temptation of Jesus in two verses. 

Be that as it may, our interest is not purely in the analysis of the accounts as such but in their message and lessons for our life and growth. 

For Mark the only thing that matters is that the Lord was strengthened by this test and then was ready to proclaim His Father’s Kingdom.  Jesus began His ministry with the message that the very power of God is available to those who open themselves to Jesus and to His Gospel and His way of loving service.  “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ ” 

The Church invites us to listen to the initial proclamation of the good news of salvation, as if it were the first time, and make the beginning of our Lenten journey a beginning again to follow Christ.  In Him, the pledge given to Noah of an irrevocable covenant (First Reading) is given its full realization through the mystery of His death and resurrection, into which we are baptized (Second Reading).  In some ways, we are being told from the very beginning of this Gospel that Jesus’ life would be in the center of the struggle between good and evil. 

One thing is clear – Jesus was tempted.  This fact itself is strange.  According to J. Escriva: “The whole episode is a mystery which man cannot hope to understand: God is here submitting to temptation, letting the evil one have his way.  A mystery indeed.  But we can meditate upon it, asking Our Lord to help us understand the teaching it contains.” 

All the three synoptic Gospels expressly underline the link between the temptation of Jesus and His baptism.  Jesus allowed the intervention so as to give us an example of humility, and to teach us to overcome the temptation that we are going to have to undergo in the course of our lives.  As John Chrysostom said: “He did this in order that the baptised should not be troubled if after Baptism they suffer still greater temptations, as though such were not to be expected.” 

Jesus wanted to teach us by His example that no one should consider himself or herself exempt from any type of trial.  We are thus warned that our own Baptism will not spare us either from trials. 

Considering the fact that Christ was tempted, we are led to examine the role and significance of temptation in our lives as His followers.  By submitting to temptation, Jesus wanted to show us that we should not be afraid of temptations: on the contrary, they give us an opportunity to progress in the interior life. 

The Apostle James tells us: “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).  From this perspective, it becomes obvious that there is a positive side to temptations.  Rather than constituting stumbling blocks on our road, temptations can become for us a means, in fact a stepping stone to advance higher on the ladder of perfection.  Temptations can become, if properly understood and handled, an opportunity to move on with greater speed and intensity in our pilgrimage of life and faith. 

A clear understanding of the meaning and relevance of temptation in our Christian life is based on the nature and destiny of man and the plan and will of God.  Without a sincere awareness of these facts, we can easily misunderstand and as such, respond in the most unfortunate way to temptations that face us in life. 

In the first place, temptations constitute both a proof of your freedom of will, and an opportunity for rightly exercising that freedom.  There is no freedom where there is no choice; there is no choice where there are no alternatives offered to the will.  Every temptation should therefore make you conscious of the glory of your freedom to choose your own path or to decide your own destiny forever.  The essential choice that every human being has to make in life is not between different kinds of food, clothing, amusement etc. but actually between, being, on the one hand, for God, and on the other being against Him.  Our choice will determine our action. 

In the second place, temptations are necessary to make the practice of virtue and obedience to God’s laws meritorious, that is, deserving of the eternal reward of heaven.  It is true that the happiness of heaven is a free gift of God, earned for human beings by the paschal mystery of Christ.  Nobody could actually deserve it by his own wisdom or power alone. 

However, Christ laid down conditions on which any man’s being granted the gift must depend.  The eight beatitudes point out the battlefields on which you must struggle, and therefore the sources of your temptations.  There would be no struggle if there were no temptations; as opportunities to show our choice and the consequent outcome. 

In the third place, temptations are often a providentially arranged test of the sincerity of your sorrow for past sins, as well as a cross that you can carry to atone for those sins.  It is as if God is saying: ‘You will be given ample opportunity to prove the sincerity of your contrition and sorrow, for you will be tempted to the same sins again and again.  Such acts as a way to see how firm or serious we were in our resolution not to commit those sins again.  One is given a second chance.  The repetition also provides a chance to atone for those past errors. 

From these three considerations, it is quite obvious that temptations constitute a positive element in our spiritual growth.  It is a proof and opportunity to rightly exercise our freedom as human beings.  It is necessary to make the practice of virtue and obedience to God’s laws meritorious and it is a test of our sincerity to change and follow in the way of the cross of Christ.  Perhaps all these go to explain the fact that it is inevitable in our life in general and in our life as Christians.  None of us in this life is free from temptation. 

Lest we might think that we have a certain immunity against this inevitable part of our experience, the apostle Paul warned us: “Everyone, no matter how firmly he thinks he is standing, must be careful he does not fall.  None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand.  You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it.” (I Cor. 10:12 – 13) 

Also the apostle James confirmed: “Never, when you are being put to the test, say, ‘God is tempting me’; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test.  Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.  Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15) 

Thus one can confidently say that any trials or temptations which we undergo are ‘testings’ of our sonship of God, of our willingness to trust Him absolutely as we conscientiously try to discover and follow His will for us. 

The thing which Moses urged the people of Israel to learn from their forty years in the wilderness is what we try to learn from our times of being tested.  As he told them: “Learn from this that the Lord your God was training you as a man trains his child” (Deut. 8:5).  It is also important to understand clearly the dynamics involved in temptations.  Knowing the subtle movements and intricate moments in temptations can help us in handling it. 

Apart from learning the meaning and importance of temptations, in fact the possible opportunities that temptations can bring for us, we also need to accept one fact.  This is the fact that ‘we are never alone in our time of testing’.  Like Jesus in the wilderness, we are not alone.  The Spirit who was with Jesus is also with us.  He is ready and willing to help us.  He is the Spirit of fortitude and strength we received when we were baptized and confirmed.  How often do we call this fact to mind especially in moments of temptations?  How often and without success do we try to go it all alone, when we have such a guide and helper always with us? 

Again, we have not only the example of Jesus to strengthen us in our temptations.  We have also His unfailing mercy and active compassion.  As the Letter to the Hebrew reminds us (in 2:18 and 4:15); “Because he himself has been through temptation, he is able to help others who are tempted”; and “It is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin”. 

For our encouragement, St. Augustine makes a rather wonderful point when he said that:  “In his own body he prefigures us who are members of that body.  When he willed to be tempted by the Devil, he figuratively transferred us into himself.  In Christ, you were being tempted, because Christ had his human flesh from you (i.e. had the same human nature as we have).  He suffered the temptation for you; and of himself won the victory for you.  If we have been tempted in him, in him we conquer the Devil.  Recognize your own self – tempted in him, and also conquering in him.  He might have avoided the Devil completely; but, had he not been tempted, he would have failed to give you the lesson of conquering when you are tempted.” 

Therefore, our temptation should not discourage us.  We must stand up to the test, we must accept the challenge.  The Gospel invites us today to examine our conscience to give a new direction to our life.  The Gospel tells us (as in the proclamation of Jesus in the passage of today) that: 

– It is time to turn towards God 

– God’s kingdom is at hand. 

– We have to repent and make good our Covenant with God. 

– We believe and live the Gospel in our everyday life. 

 The Lenten season reminds us to take our Christian commitment seriously and resolve to begin anew.  Let us use this time to prepare ourselves worthily for the celebration of Easter.  Let our fasting and abstinence bring us closer to the Lord.  Let us ever more come to the conviction: God is our God, faithful to His covenant.  Let us too be faithful in discharging our Christian duties.  So the message of Lent would not consist in mere works of sacrifice but rather in following the call of God in faith, in the light of His own Word. 

May the Lord lead us and continue to deliver us from all evils, now and to the end of our lives.  Amen. 

            In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.

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