1st Sunday of Lent (B)

“Repent and believe in the Good News of God’s Kingdom.”

Lent is a time of repentance and conversion through self-examination, self-discipline and self-commitment. It is the time to return, renew and reconcile our relationship with God. It is an invitation to respond positively for a purposeful reflection on one’s need for encountering God. During lent we spend six weeks preparing to celebrate the high point of our faith: the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Incarnate God. Formerly it was a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and preparing ready to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with a renewed commitment to follow him.

In the Gospel of today, mark tells us that after his baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days. And, during that time, he is tested by the evil one. Mark does not say how he was tested or tempted but Matthew and Luke do. These tests are really examples of the kind of tests that Jesus was to face in the course of his public life and how we are going to be tempted in our life. There is the temptation to change stones to bread so that Jesus satisfies the hunger, to jump down the pinnacle of the temple and present himself as messiah, and finally to worship the Satan and receive the universe as a reward. These temptations can be summarized to say that it was an invitation to be unfaithful to the Mission of the Lord. Satan shows the easy way but the Father wants Jesus to be faithful to his mission of suffering and death to rise again. He is tested frequently by enemies from among his own people and by the Romans. His own relatives say that he is out of his mind (Mark 3: 21). The most severe temptation comes when he appears to have failed in his mission; he is misunderstood, betrayed, and abandoned by his disciples; he is arrested, undergoes the humiliation and torture associated with a criminal’s public execution; and finally he apparently has the experience of being forsaken by God while dying on a cross.

Mark here gives us the first public words of Jesus, his Messianic mission’s basic keynote speech, which has four specific messages: “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Believe in the Gospel.” This message summarizes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. In this statement Jesus is not asking his audience to do or not to do something to shape their future in Heaven.  He is concerned with the here and now. Repentance, (metanoia) is a change of mind and heart, a lifelong process of transformation. The Good News Jesus announced is that God is already working here among us, so close to us that we can reach out and touch Him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man. But we will be able to experience Jesus as Son of God only if we undergo a complete change in our value system and priorities by means of true repentance. Jesus announces, “the time has come,” meaning that the long-expected “Kingdom of God” is present in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is at hand. His kingdom is not a political kingdom but a spiritual one. That is why when Pilate questions Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world. This kingdom is God’s rule in the heart of the individual. This was established with creation and man lost it through his disobedience and God wants to restore it in Jesus. This will be fully realized at the end of times when Jesus restores all things to the Father. How are we to achieve this kingdom? We can achieve this by “believing in the Gospel”. Not just believing that the Gospel is true; but believing IN the Gospel. There is a world of difference between believing something and believing in something, or, even more significantly, believing in a person. Where the Kingdom is concerned, this involves a total commitment of ourselves to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life. This will mean a turning upside down of many of the values we take for granted and which prevail in our world.

The presence of God’s Kingdom in Jesus is revealed also by the liberation of people from the destructive forces in their lives, by the bringing back of the rejected and the outcast, by the forgiveness and reconciliation given to repentant sinners and finally by the supreme act of self-giving love of Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection. “Believing in the Gospel” means a total commitment to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life.

In the Second Reading taken from the First Letter of Peter, we heard the author speaking to the believers about their suffering and the sufferings of Jesus. Peter tells them that since Jesus had triumphed, they would also triumph. Their Baptism was the pledge of their triumph for it gave them a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also tells the Gentile community that Jesus suffered for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. The sacrifice of Jesus was not just for a few, but for all of us, from the beginning of time until the end of time. He, who was sinless, took upon Himself the weight of our sins and allowed Himself to be crucified in our place so God the Father may be appeased. Christ died for us!