Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 18: 1st Sunday in Lent

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

“Repent” or “refresh”?

Gn 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

As Lent begins, this Sunday’s reading takes us to the opening scenes of Mark’s Gospel. After Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River where he is suffused by the Spirit and his Father’s voice declares him to be “my beloved Son,” Jesus is “driven” out into the desert by that same Spirit.  There Jesus will confront Satan, the very embodiment of evil.  

Mark’s account is brief and dramatic. Jesus is “tested” by the power of evil, as if in some primeval struggle, and Jesus prevails. He mingles with the wild beasts — a sign in the Bible of the ultimate peace that God will give — and angels “minister” to him after his combat with raw evil. Thus Jesus, unlike Israel of old whose fidelity to God wavered in the desert, is faithful and strong.

This desert scene sets the stage for Jesus’ entrance into Galilee and the beginning of his mission. Jesus’ words are the keynote of his entire mission: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Each phrase is drenched with meaning.  

Jesus first signals that a new era is dawning, the “time of fulfillment.” The age-old longing of Israel for peace and justice, for the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, is now about to be achieved. “The kingdom of God is at hand” — here, too, is highly charged biblical language. 

Over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, Israel’s monarchy began, but except for some bright moments under David and Solomon, the kings of Israel failed to protect God’s people and at times were themselves the source of injustice and treachery. Israel’s history was laden with suffering — invasion, exile, occupation by foreign powers. Thus there developed a longing for God to rule Israel directly, breaking the cycle of failure and bringing definitive peace.  

It is this deep longing that Jesus evokes in this overture to his mission. Through his compassionate healing and his words of truth, through his gathering of the broken and scattered people, Jesus would offer to Israel an experience of God’s ultimate peace.

What is to be our response to this declaration of Jesus? “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It is here that the Gospel reading prompts us to think about Lent. What exactly does “repent” mean? You may have heard the old Italian saying about translating from one language to another — “Traduttore, traditore” — “to translate is to betray.” That might be the case with the word “repent.” 

The original Greek word used here is “metanoeite,” literally to “change your mind”; “noeite” derives from the root word “nous,” which means your mind, and the prefix “meta” implies change or transformation. To repent implies that we confess our wrongdoing and determine to reform our ways — certainly a salutary thing to do. But to change your mind or perspective is something different. It involves seeing reality in a different way, renewing our perspective on life.

It is this latter sense the Gospel calls us to “renew our minds” (our spirits, our way of looking at things) and “believe in the Gospel.” This is the new perspective — to accept with mind and heart Jesus’ good news that the kingdom of God is within reach.  

Our world is not condemned to the power of evil; the forces of injustice and violence will not have the last word. All of creation, including the Earth itself, is a gift of God and destined for abundant life. This is what will drive Jesus’ own mission of healing, his outreach to the poor and vulnerable, his vision of the human person as generous and capable of love.

So, what about Lent, this season when we prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus, the consummate act of God’s love and the definitive sign of renewal for our world? Turn away from any deadly habits we may have, surely. But, even more important, we ask God’s Spirit to open our minds and hearts to the beauty around us in the people we love and in the world of which we are apart.


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