WHAT HAPPENED TO “TEMPTATION SUNDAY?”
1 Peter 3:18-22;
Flood…covenant…salvation…baptism – all this might sound a little unusual on this First Sunday of Lent, called Temptation Sunday because the gospel always relates the temptation of Jesus in the desert. We are entering into the Lenten Season – in its earliest form, a time of preparation for baptism and entry into the Church for catechumens. Our first two readings today reflect that aspect.
Here is a good Bible Trivia question: How many persons were saved through Noah’s Ark? The answer comes up in the second reading. Hint: Noah and his wife, their sons and their wives.
What stands out in the first reading is the word “covenant,” appearing some five times. God establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants that “never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of the flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
God places the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant. Water shall never again be used to destroy all living beings.
How does this relate to baptism? Water, which was used for destruction in the Flood, is now used as a sign and instrument of salvation in the sacrament of baptism. The Responsorial, Psalm 25, emphasizes the covenant love and fidelity of God.
FIRST LETTER OF PETER
This reading has to do with baptism. Some scholars think that First Peter was originally a baptismal homily. This selection begins with the Paschal Mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.”
The reading states that Noah and his family, eight in all, were saved through water. “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” Baptism is our way of participating in the resurrected life of Jesus, “who has gone to heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers subject to him.”
Why did I ask, “What happened to Temptation Sunday?” Because the gospels of Matthew and Luke give a detailed account of the temptation of Jesus. Today’s gospel from Mark, however, confines it to a few lines: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.” In order to learn exactly how the devil tempted Jesus and how Jesus resisted, we have to read Matthew or Luke.
This gospel reading adds the two verses that were read a few weeks ago when Jesus started his public ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” This message is always timely and important, but especially so as we begin Lent. It is, in fact, one of the formulas to use in imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
The popular conception of Lent is of a time to “give up stuff you like,” as the kids say. While sacrifice, abstinence, and mortification certainly remain part of Lenten observance, it also has to do with a renewal of the heart and spirit – a greater understanding and appreciation of our salvation by Jesus and our entry into that mystery by renewing our covenant of baptism. Basically, it’s a season of deeper conversion to Christ by yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit as he transforms us.
Returning to the Responsorial, Psalm 25, our prayer is: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.”