First Sunday in Lent – February 22, 2015

Genesis 9, 8-15 + Psalm 25 + 1 Peter 3, 18-22 + Mark 1, 12-15

The first followers of Jesus Christ did not follow him because they believed he was God. They followed him and eventually began to imitate long before they began to worship him. They changed their lives and left everything behind following him from town to town, synagogue to synagogue because they saw something valuable in the way he lived. They saw how he paid attention to things and people they had never noticed before, and he showed them how to change the world in which they lived. He did not do this by creating a new religion. He did it by showing them how to bring his new insights into the faith they already had. This is why it is important to understand how central “covenant” is in the faith of Jesus, and how central “covenant” is for us during Lent. Over and over again, we will hear about “covenant” during these Lenten weeks, until finally a “New Covenant” emerges at the end on Holy Thursday.

Today we hear about the first covenant with Noah. It is a little unique among the covenants because in this one God makes all the commitments. In every one that follows, there will be mutual responsibilities, and the covenant will revolve around each side keeping their obligations. Other covenants will follow like the one with Abraham and Sarah and another that Moses mediates on a mountain top. There was always something more to these covenants than the mutual obligations. There was an understanding that the obligations were the bare minimum, and that something more was always expected. Jesus was a man of covenant, and he believed and understood this matter of doing more than was expected.

Think of it this way. Marriage is a covenant. The terms or obligations of the covenant are set out in the vow: “I will be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I love and honor you all the days of my life.” In an older version it says: “to have and to hold from this day forward for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Now, if that’s all you do for one another and nothing more, it isn’t going to be much of a relationship. It takes a lot more than that for a covenant to be life-giving and lasting. You can do “little things” and sometimes big things that bring give life and joy into a relationship. There are countless little things that you don’t have to do, but when done out of love bring joy. These things bring freedom into a covenant because while we are not free to break the covenant, we are free to do more than the obligations. This is what Jesus began to show his followers. Just keeping the rules and doing the bare minimum does not allow a covenant to be life-giving and lead the two in the covenant to come closer together and become one.

Here we discover what Jesus was doing and teaching his disciples. Story after story, parable after parable he takes his covenant relationship with God beyond the rules and regulations to which most people adhered somewhat rigidly. Faith for Jesus and his commitment to his Father led him to find commitment with others and experience God working in every situation of his life by always doing more than was required.

The season we have now begun is focused on covenant, but not to examine how well we keep the rules, but to lead us to freedom and into the reign of God. That freedom and the real fulfillment of the covenant is found in doing more than what is required.

So a rule says: no meat on Friday. Is that the best you can do? It says two days of fast every year. Is two days the only time you might fast? Mass once a week on Sunday. Is that all you can manage? A commandment says: “Do not kill.”  Have you done anything to give life? “Do not steal.” Have you given anything away? It isn’t hard to look at our lives this way. This way of life and this way of relationship in covenant is what those disciples learned from Jesus. Our faith and the covenant we have in the Body and Blood of Christ is about being more than average, about doing more than just getting by, about living more deeply, joyfully, and freely by doing little things and big things that are not required, but freely chosen out of love for one another and love for God.

Father Tom Boyer