1st Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

We started life with a slap to a delicate portion of our anatomy to get us to cry, and we probably cried when water was poured over our head in Baptism. Today’s readings remind us that life on this earth is a battle and we need Christ’s help to fight it and to win it.

Today’s First Reading recalls the Lord hanging up his “bow” (the rainbow) to conclude the war he had declared against sin. Yet, as events later revealed, sin didn’t stop trying to wage war on him. The Lord makes a covenant with Noah, who has survived the Flood along with his family and a remnant of the earth’s creatures. When we look at a rainbow today it brings a smile and wonder to our face, but it also symbolizes the end of the flood and the covenant the Lord made with Noah to never wipe out living creatures that way again. The rainbow is a sign of peace, but it is a sign of war as well: the war against sin.

In today’s Second Reading Peter reminds us that the Lord didn’t wage war on sin for sin’s sake, but for us. He waged war on what was destroying us. Peter observes that the story of the Flood and Noah foreshadowed when the waters of Baptism would wipe out sin. Lent is a time when we’re reminded of Baptism, in part because the catechumens throughout the world will be Baptized and received into the Church during the Easter Vigil. Baptism also reminds us of the destruction of sin in us. Peter makes a connection between Jesus’ resurrection and Baptism: there is a power in that water and those words that comes from Our Lord. If the Flood destroyed sinners along with sin, through Baptism the Lord continues to wage war on sin, one soul at a time.

In today’s Gospel the Lord, just baptized in the Jordan, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to battle temptation before beginning his public ministry. Our Lord has assumed human nature and made the battle personal. Sin and evil have a chance to strike directly at him. “Forty days” is a Biblical expression meaning a long time. This was not just a formality or a quick skirmish. It was the first battle of the final part of the war on sin. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t go into much detail, but we know from the other Evangelists that Satan tried and failed to make Our Lord succumb. However, we also know from those accounts that Satan withdrew until he could strike again at a more opportune moment: Gethsemane as Our Lord’s Passion began. Just as we start Lent, so we start the battle, like Our Lord, that will ultimately win the war on sin once and for all.

Sin rarely comes on full force until you’re in its clutches. It presents itself as something good, counting on you to see it as such. It tries to make you “see reason” and not be “superstitious” or “backward” about things. Does that sound familiar? The serpent in Eden used it on Eve to horrific effect. Temptation will always try to convince you that you’re weak, ignorant, or cowardly in living according to the teaching of the faith. However, its tactics also show how to defeat it: by pushing back, knowing that Our Lord has got your back. It’s hard to stand up to a bully on your own, but if your big brother is standing behind you it gives you confidence. Our Lord is your big brother and he’s got your back.

Readings: Genesis 9:8–15; Psalm 25:4–9; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15.