Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Genesis 9:8-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25:4-9
Second Reading: 1st
Letter of St. Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: According to St. Mark 1:12-15
What is the Gospel? By that I mean: What is the Good
News? On this the 1st Sunday of Lent we are told exactly what the Good News is and the answer comes directly from the mouth of the Messiah:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
From what St. Mark tells us, Jesus was relaying four basic facts to anyone who would listen. First, the present moment is the moment when all things are coming together for something very important. Second, God’s Kingdom is right here, right now. Third, the proper response to this imminent Kingdom is repentance. Fourth, and tying all of these together, this is not a drill so you’d better, as my daughter Mary Kate would say, mop up what I’m spilling.
These words have obvious relevance as we begin the Season of Lent where we focus on the coming of the Paschal Mystery and the fulfillment of the mission of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Yet, beyond that they have relevance for the everyday lives of those who are open to the Gospel. Not only was the time of fulfillment a present event for those who listened to Jesus in Galilee, but, because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End, it is a present event for all people in all places and at all times.
The link between the time of fulfillment, the Kingdom of God, and Jesus is such that one could imagine that when Jesus said that the Kingdom is at hand He was really saying, “I am at hand, and because I am at hand it is time to repent.” Jesus is, like the Kingdom, present in the world today, while still to be brought to completion at the Second Coming.
Until the time of the Parousia, we are left with the task of following the command of Jesus to repent and Lent is the perfect time to re-orient ourselves away from a life of earthly fulfillment focusing on wealth, pleasure, power and honor (as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it) and towards a life of poverty, pain, weakness and derision.
If Jesus is indeed the embodiment of the Kingdom of God and Christians wish to enter that Kingdom then it seems that the only route is the path that Jesus walked on Good Friday. For the next five Sundays Catholic congregations around the world will be called in a special way to walk that path as we prepare for the liturgical re-enactment of that path during the Triduum.
When Jesus calls His followers to repentance He does so as One Who looks ahead to that path through the city of Jerusalem, the path that led to Calvary: the path of poverty, pain, weakness and derision. He also had in mind a man whom He would meet at the end of that path, a man for whom the message “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel,” could not have been more important. That man is Dismas – the man who is also known as the Good or Penitent Thief.
The equation of “Penitent” and “Good” is wonderfully appropriate, especially during the Season of Lent, for how else can the good and thoughtful followers of Jesus approach Lent but through heart-felt penitence? To be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word is to make this connection, and therefore to see that if the Good News is Good
only for those who listen to the message of the Incarnate Word of God. It is Good
only for those who Repent.