GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Welcome every body to the beginning of our journey for this Lenten season. Today is the first Sunday of Lent in Year B, and so we’re going to be journeying this year through the season of Lent, of course, with the gospel of Mark. And you might have noticed over the years, that every year at Lent, the first Sunday of Lent is al- ways the story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. That story is recorded in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And so today the Church is go- ing to begin with the gospel reading being Mark's account of the temptation, and the first thing you’re going to notice about Mark's account of the temptation is that it is by far the shortest, right. So most of us are probably a little more familiar with Matthew and Luke's account of Jesus’ temptations, in which they catalog three temptations of Jesus, in which he dialogues with the devil, quoting Scripture to Sa- tan, and then, you know, Satan departs and leaves him for a time. Mark tells us about Jesus's time in the desert, but he does so in a much more brief fashion. How- ever, I hope you’ve seen already in our study of Mark, that just because Mark is shorter, doesn't mean that it's less meaningful. It doesn't mean that there’s less there to examine, less there to study. In fact, sometimes Mark does a remarkable amount with very few verses. That's definitely the case here with the story of the tempta- tion of Jesus. So let's read his account and then we’ll unpack it. In Mark 1:12 and following, immediately after the account of Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan River, Mark says this:The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
That is a very short passage, but it is actually packed with some interesting ques- tions. Number one, notice, what does Mark mean when he says “the spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness?” Second, notice that Mark's account of the tempta- tion tells us something unique. It says not only was Jesus tempted by Satan, but it says that he was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him. It’s only in Mark, so what does that mean? Why does Mark think it's so important for us to know that Jesus was with the wild beasts and that the angels ministered to him? What would that even mean the angels ministered to him? And then fourth and fi- nally, why does the Church include the beginning of Jesus' ministry here, verses 14 and 15, about him coming into Galilee and beginning to preach this message of the kingdom being at hand, and to repent and believe in the gospel. What's that have to do with the temptations of Jesus? So we’ll look at each one of those in turn.
First and foremost, number one...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The first Sunday of Lent for the second reading of the Mass takes us to the first letter of St. Peter, chapter 3. And this is one of the most mysterious and also most controversial passages in 1 Peter, because it deals with the hotly debated issue of whether and when and how Jesus descended into Hell. Alright, so this is one of the articles of faith in the Apostles Creed — that Jesus descended into Hell, or literally in the Greek, into Hades — that many Christians, many non-Catholics, don’t accept. They don’t believe Jesus descended into Hell. Many Catholics who believe it don’t necessarily understand it. What does that mean to say Jesus went to Hell? Usually we think of Hell as the realm of the damned. And also many interpreters of Scripture debate whether or not the New Testament ever speaks about Jesus’ descent into Hell.
And so when that doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hell comes up, this passage in 1 Peter chapter 3 — the second reading for today on the first Sunday of Lent — is kind of the locus classicus, the classic passage or classic place in Scripture where the Fathers of the Church (some Fathers, as we’ll see) point to a biblical foundation for that article of faith in the Apostles Creed.
So we’re going to read it today and kind of talk about why it’s here for the first Sunday of Lent. And then we’ll also adjudicate the question of, “Does it actually refer to Jesus’ descent into Hell or to some other mystery of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection?”
So, without any further ado, 1 Peter chapter 3, verses 18-22 is the reading. This is what it says:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.
Okay, so before we get into the debate over exactly what this passage refers to (certain verses in it), the first thing we want to say is just something that’s really incontrovertible. Namely, if you look at the entire passage as a whole, one reason the Church probably chooses this for the first Sunday of Lent is because it’s a summary statement of what we refer to as the Paschal Mystery — the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. That’s what we are preparing for during the Lenten season. The Lenten season is a 40-day preparation for the liturgical commemoration and celebration of Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection, and then of course in Easter, we’ll enter into the Ascension period as well.
So that focus on the Passion and Death of Jesus is one of the reasons this passage is chosen. And as I’ve mentioned in other videos, during the Lenten season, the second reading is not chosen according to a principle of semi-continuous reading — like during Ordinary Time where we’re working through one of the letters of Paul, for example.
But during Lent, the second reading is chosen for thematic reasons. In other words, it’s going to be tied more to the season itself. And in this case, that’s what seems to be happening here. For thematic reasons, the theme of Passion and Death (and then of course Resurrection) the Church has chosen to put this passage, famous passage from 1 Peter, before our eyes to prepare us at the very beginning of the Lenten season.
Alright, so if you look there, you’ll see the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are all mentioned in those verses. For it begins with:
...Christ also died for sins once for all…
Chapter 3, verse 18. And then if you skip down to verse 21, it says:
...through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God...
That’s the Ascension. So you got the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension — that’s the great Paschal Mystery, and that’s what this passage is all about. And what Peter is saying here — again, this is incontrovertible — is that the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection in some way corresponds to Baptism. It’s tied to the Sacrament of Baptism, which now saves you:
...not as a removal of dirt from the body…
Not as an exterior rite only:
...but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
So again, during the Lenten season — especially for people who are catechumens — they aren’t just preparing to celebrate Easter. They’re preparing to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, as well as the Sacraments of Holy Communion and ordinarily of Confirmation as well — the Sacraments of Initiation. So it’s also fitting that the Church would put here before us 1 Peter’s teaching on the correlation between the Paschal Mystery and the Sacrament (the principle Sacrament) of Initiation, which is the Sacrament of Baptism.
And I can’t help but pointing out as we look at that: notice the strength of the language of the New Testament about Baptism. It’s not just
an outward sign of inward repentance — although it’s certainly that. But it’s efficacious. It performs what it signifies. Peter says:
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you… (1 Peter 3:21a)
Now that’s striking, right? A lot of Catholics will be asked a question — a very common experience, especially in predominantly Protestant countries — “Have you been saved?” And what’s usually meant by that question from our evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters is, “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”...as an adult with a conscious conversion experience or something like that. But biblically speaking, the language of salvation is not just tied to the confession of faith in Jesus — although it certainly is, like in Romans 10:
For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. (Romans 10:10)
So that’s true, but New Testament also says that the Sacrament (doesn’t call it that but…) ... the Rite of Baptism is salvific. It has saving power. And many non-Catholic Christians — you’d never hear a sermon on how Baptism saves you. It’s always “you’re saved by faith” — not by the Sacrament. Well, that’s not Scriptural. According to Scripture, you’re saved by faith, absolutely, but you’re also saved by the Sacrament. The grace of the Sacrament is salvific, and a lot of times people don’t see it as easily, because it’s “hidden” in 1 Peter chapter 3. So whereas the letters of Paul are widely read in non-Catholic circles, the so-called Catholic epistles of 1 Peter and 1 John and James are less widely read. They receive less attention.
I always like to joke that 1 Peter is the first papal encyclical, and it suffers the fate of many other papal encyclicals — namely, nobody ever reads it. So we don’t want to let that happen here. This is very important to understand, that Baptism is salvific. And I think that’s another reason the Church gives us this text on the first Sunday of Lent as we prepare not just for receiving Baptism (if we’re a catechumen), but if we are already members of the Body of Christ for renewing our Baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil. That’s going to be something, if we attend the Easter Vigil, we renew our Baptismal vows. So this is a season of preparation for the graces of Baptism, either to be unleashed in the Sacrament or to be renewed through the Easter Liturgy...through the Easter Vigil.
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