Mk 1.12-15                 Gen 9.8-15              1Pt 3.18-22

“We’re all in the same boat” is a commonly used term, and I wonder if its origins don’t go back to Noah’s ark, but Dr Google tells me it comes from the ancient Greeks, and their occasionally sinking boats!  As Claude Mostowik MSC tells us of the first reading: “Today we find rich symbols of  God’s presence and care for the earth and all upon it. The ‘bow in the clouds’ signifies God’s covenant of peace with all creation. The Noah myth also depicts a God who desires the flourishing of life on Earth.  The story is one of re-creation where things are put together again by healing and reconciliation. The hovering ‘dove’ bids us come ashore in peace, to cease from out forgetfulness, to end the violence”  wherever – at home, in our “workplaces, community, nation or between nations.”

And now its backwards into the future, as we go back in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus follows John the Baptist’s tracks into the desert, as an ominous dark cloud overshadows the scene, with Jesus being tempted by Satan, symbolic of the forces of evil, which we still see of course in today’s world. Then there is reference to John the Baptist’s arrest, and so removal from the scene, having paved the way for Jesus to take up his mission of proclaiming God’s Kingdom being near at hand, but never quite all there, as it is to be an evolving process throughout Christian history, as here we are now, still trying to build God’s Kingdom of justice, love and peace!

As author Michael McGirr puts it: “Today, a few lines tell us that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and ‘was tempted by Satan.’ He was ‘with the wild beasts’, meaning he was vulnerable as he was immersed in the natural world. This was surely an experience of struggle and growth. Then suddenly Jesus discovers that John the Baptist has been arrested. In a few lines, Mark creates the impression of a challenging time.

How did Jesus respond? He seems to have been enlivened, to have decided to create change. He is full of energy and purpose. ‘The time has come,’ he says. In his vulnerability, he has discovered that ‘the kingdom of God is close at hand.’”

We can pray all we like not to be led into temptation, but the reality is always there, where we find ourselves in the middle of it, often enough.  Once again, it comes back to our human experience of facing up to our weaknesses and trying to make positive and good choices about how to live our lives as faithful followers of Jesus.

In the depths of his humanity, Jesus begins his public ministry in private, by taking time out in the darkness and wilderness of the desert, symbolic of “Where the Wild Things Are”, as children’s author Maurice Sendak would suggest!  Mark’s account is stark and brief, with Satan being dismissed by Jesus, without any further fuss. The bit about the angels looking after him is more than a little fanciful, as Jesus, to his own credit,  makes his own decisions without the need of celestial assistance! It’s Matthew who amplifies the temptations into temporal realities such as giving in to greed or avarice, wealth, power and control, whereas Jesus is into walking with the people, not lording it over them, nor escaping the day to day realities of life.

It interests me that Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular feast days outside Christmas and Easter, just happening this year to fall on Valentine’s Day!  Yet, it has never been a holy day of obligation!  We, the people speak with our feet, by turning up to get the ashes.  Apart from being a reminder of our mortality, it’s a time to acknowledge the call to turn away from sin, to repent of our sins and resolve to do better in our lives and choices, in the ongoing cycle of life for all of us, young and old!

We had the Prep parents welcoming evening here at school on Friday evening, and one parent informed me that her child had informed her that God had visited the class that day.  It turned out to be me, who had come in to have a chat, tell a story and show the students a talking, singing toy or two!  It’s interesting how things can be perceived, but I won’t let it go to my head, especially given what follows!

Jesus’s instructions to not be self-important, showing off how holy or good or generous we are, to pray privately and quietly in our own space, to deny ourselves of something we like, and to support those in need with generosity of spirit, are at the centre of his teaching here.

Talking to the St Columba’s students and staff this week, at their opening Mass, I used a story written by a father to his daughters, about the challenges of life and achieving their potential, considering role models, albeit Americans, who had previously shown the way, and made a difference to others. And that father was Barack Obama.  The title is “Of Thee I Sing”.  It is a powerful reflection on “the potential within each of us to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths”, in our case, following along the way of Jesus.

At this time, I also raise our consciousness of  the practical call of Project Compassion, for us to contribute to the grass roots work of Caritas Australia, in supporting causes for the betterment of so many in our world, in need of the basics – access to fresh water, health, education and welfare. A fundamental goal too, is helping people in developing areas to help themselves, with a sense of respect for their dignity and rights.

Once again, as author Michael McGirr puts it: “This year, through Project Compassion, Caritas Australia will ask us to consider several stories of vulnerability and hope in action. Over the coming weeks, we will meet a number of extraordinary women: Ronita from the Philippines, Leaia from Samoa and Memory from Malawi. They remind us that in many situations around the world, women are the heart of the community and the drivers of change. In each case, a partnership involving Caritas Australia and local agencies has led to new opportunities not just for an individual but for families and communities.”   (With my own technological limitations, I had difficulty downloading the videos, but will get the links put up on the parish website, for you to connect if you wish, which I’d recommend you do so.)

So into another Lenten season we go, in the penitential purple, but not beating ourselves up in sackcloth and ashes, rather, determined to do something useful to make life better for others.  Contributing to Project Compassion is a good way to do that.

john hannon                                                                                   18th  February  2024

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