February 18, 2024

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

Theme: Creation Overcomes Chaos

The liturgy for this Sunday, presents a parable from Genesis for our Lenten journey: the story of God’s covenant with Noah, his descendants, and every living creature for all future generations. The sign or seal of this covenant is an exquisite rainbow, with God’s solemn assurance: I will remember my covenant (9:11). One might imagine a majestic trumpet accompaniment to that revelation – the sequel to the tragedy of the fall and the flood in the preceding chapters of Genesis. The earth that God had seven times declared good, in the beginning, had been spoiled (NJBC, p. 16). We contend even now with the consequences of that reality, and live in the hope of that covenant.

     God’s fidelity to the promise “to remember” is reflected in Peter’s first letter, which explores the baptismal heritage emerging from Christ’s victory, for his disciples then and now. Dalton notes (NJBC, p. 907) that, just as Noah was rescued from the evil world of his day by water, so are Christians rescued through the water of baptism. He suggests that verses 18-22 are probably a conflation of a creedal statement or hymn, and a catechetical section on baptism (19-21). The letter specifies, in verse 18, that Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Here, those terms do not refer to Christ’s body and soul, but rather to the two spheres of Christ’s existence: “body” indicating his earthly life, and “spirit” identifying the risen Lord transformed by the Spirit (NJBC, p. 907). Marcie Lenk adds significant nuances: “flesh”/body is limitation, suffering, death, whereas spirit is power, vindication, new life (JANT, p. 507). Noting that a distinctive element of 1 Peter is its presentation of Christ as the suffering servant of Is. 53, Telford adds that the Christology of the letter reflects the Gentile orientation already adopted, though more tentatively, by the evangelist, Mark (19:3-4). It is a high Christology focused on Christ’s suffering and death as well as his exaltation.

     The passage from Mark, as presented in the lectionary, opens with a reference to Jesus’ baptism. We recall that, as he emerged from the water, a voice from heaven affirmed, “You are my Son, the Beloved, my favor rests on you.” That declaration of his identity reverberates with intimations of a new creation. Jesus, prompted by the Spirit, ventures into the wilderness, the realm of “wild beasts” (chaos), where he endures the temptations of Satan. From this moment, the entire narrative will unfold as a struggle between creation and the forces of chaos – both cosmic forces and human opponents of Jesus (Bobertz, 14). That struggle is reflected in the arrest of John the Baptist (vs. 14), leading Jesus to return to Galilee; the time has come for his own public ministry, in proclaiming the kingdom of God and its good news. For Bobertz, the central irony of the narrative is that the destruction of Jesus will result in the resurrection of Jesus; as in the story of creation, the flood, and the Exodus, creation overcomes chaos.     

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. In your life, what is a sign of a covenant that you value? What does that sign mean to you? 2. Where do you see a struggle between creation and chaos? How do you respond to it?

Bibliography: Bobertz, Charles A., The Gospel of Mark (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016); Brown, Raymond E., et al., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990); Levine, A-J, and Brettler, M.Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, New York, 2017); Telford, W.R., The Theology of the Gospel of Mark (Cambridge University Press, New York, Fourth Printing 2006).

This Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006


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