Reflections on the Daily Readings

February 18 - 24, 2018
The Season of Lent - The First Week
Readings: Sunday Cycle B; Weekday Cycle II.
Divine Office - Psalter Week I.

Sunday 18:          The First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 24; 1Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
As we begin our Lenten preparation for the celebration of Easter we are reminded of the reason behind this penitential time. We are reminded of the covenants God made with his people, of how the people broke those covenants and of how God then sought to destroy them and begin creation afresh. Nevertheless, we are also told that God will no longer destroy those who break his covenant because he has sent us the means to be saved from our sins and from death, but only if we believe.
In the first reading we see God talking with Noah after the great Flood has receded. The Flood was God’s way of removing sinful humans from the earth and restarting or renewing his creation to its original state of purity and it was clear in this episode that it was humans who brought sin into creation. However, God has realised that humans are a species prone to go wrong and so he tells Noah that he will never again seek to destroy the human race even if they break the covenant which he makes with Noah and which is to last throughout the generations. The sign of the covenant and God’s promise not to destroy the peoples is the rainbow in the sky.
Our second reading comes from St Peter and at the time he was writing there was a belief in Judaism that evil spirits had brought sin into the world at the time of the Flood and that the Flood saved Noah from this contamination. Peter takes this idea and says that the saving of Noah by water is similar to our being baptised with water because, at baptism, the soul is washed clean and original sin is removed. Peter also attests to the death of Jesus Christ as something which leads us to God through his resurrection from the dead.
We read very briefly in St Mark’s gospel of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness after his baptism and how he did not succumb to Satan’s promises. Mark doesn’t give us the detail of the temptations, as do the other evangelists, because Mark sees Jesus as being tempted right throughout the gospel but that he never gave in to those temptations. After this episode and the arrest of his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus begins preaching repentance for the sake of the Kingdom because that is the way we enter heaven – through repentance we renew our souls and make ourselves acceptable for the heavenly court. We know that what awaits us is a much greater promise than awaited Noah and so we should use this time well by examining our own life and making sure that it is in keeping with the covenant.

Monday 19:         Of the First Week of Lent
Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18; Psalm 18; Matthew 25:31-46
The readings today show us how to make our lives more holy during Lent by treating other people the way we should treat them. The Lord speaks to Moses in the reading from Leviticus and through him gives the people instructions for living properly in his sight, particularly how to act towards members of our family, friends and neighbours. The Psalm sings the praises of God’s law and reminds us that this law gives wisdom and refreshes the soul. In the gospel, Jesus gives a further instruction for proper living: we must reach out to others and help them in any way we can because God dwells in them just as much as he does in us. At the start of this first full week of Lent we are reminded that good works – as well as faith in God – are necessary in life.

Tuesday 20:         Of the First Week of Lent
Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 33; Matthew 6:7-15
In the reading from Isaiah, God says that his word goes out and achieves what it was sent to do. This reminds us that God’s will is perfectly carried out in heaven and that we pray for this to happen here on earth. In the gospel, Jesus gives us the most perfect prayer – The Our Father. It is perfect because it is past, present and future. It is perfect because it gives praise to God for what we have received; it asks for what we need to continue living; it seeks forgiveness for the wrongs we have done; it asks for the strength to forgive; and it asks for protection. The whole Gospel is summed up in this one prayer and as we pray it the Word of God is fulfilled.

Wednesday 21:   Of the First Week of Lent
Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 50; Luke 11:29-32
Today’s readings remind us of the importance of penance and of its reward. In the first reading we see Jonah has been sent to Nineveh to warn the people of God’s wrath at their wrong-doing and of God’s intention to punish them. When they hear the warning they repent and when they repent the punishment they were to receive is set aside, and their friendship with God is restored. The Psalm takes up this theme of repentance and the plea for forgiveness. Jesus, in the gospel, is giving the same warning to the people of his day as Jonah gave to the Ninevites. The message is given to us in our day also. We must turn away from sin and return to the ways of the Lord if we are to be saved.

Thursday 22:       Feast of the Chair of St Peter, Apostle*
1Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 22; Matthew 16:13-19
In his first letter, St Peter tells us how he himself exercised his authority through a pastoral letter to those who were responsible for looking after the faithful. In the passage Peter speaks of his being a witness to the sufferings of Jesus – reminding his readers that he was present with the Lord and knew the human Christ. This letter also tells us how he implores all elders to be true shepherds to those entrusted to them by the Lord and to be perfect examples of living witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All is to be done with humility and for the love of God rather than for earthly praise. As Peter was the chief shepherd of the flock after Jesus Christ, the Psalm for today reminds us that the Lord is the true Shepherd.
The gospel passage from St Matthew shows Peter being appointed as leader of Christ’s Church following his great proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. When the question is put to the group it is Peter who speaks up and answers on their behalf – even before the Lord appoints him as leader Peter has been the spokesman for the group. As he was leader of the fledgling group, Peter is also a powerful symbol of unity for the Church which continues right down to this day.

Friday 23:            Of the First Week of Lent.
Ezekiel 18:21-28; Psalm 129; Matthew 5:20-26
The readings today remind us of the importance of interior conversion. In the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel we are told that God does not rejoice in the death of a wicked man but rejoices to see that person converted. More distasteful in his sight is a righteous man turning to wicked ways than a wicked man living wickedly. In the gospel, we are told that our virtue must be more than the mere lip-service of the Pharisees – we must live and act from a deeply held conviction and faith and not just go through external emotions. God sees the inmost heart and judges accordingly. Jesus also reminds us to be reconciled with our family for any wrong we have done to them or they have done to us. Where we fall short on this we must take concrete steps towards conversion.

Saturday 24:        Of the First Week of Lent.
Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Psalm 118; Matthew 5:43-48
In the reading from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, we see that God has promised life to his people but only if they keep the Commandments – those simple instructions and rules for living which make life so easy and happy. The Psalm tells us that those who do keep the Commandments and the law of God will live in happiness. Jesus reminds us in the gospel that we must love all people – good and bad alike. For him, this is a simple extension of the Commandments and something we should have no problem doing if we are truly living out the Commandments. We must always act perfectly in the same way that God is perfect and we are seeking to become one with him.

Memorials this Week:
February 22:        The Feast of the Chair of St Peter
This feast has been observed in Rome since the fourth century. It celebrates the unity of the Church under the papacy and the readings recall Christ’s choice of Peter as the rock on which he would build the Church.

© P. Breen, O.Carm. 2011, 2013
The Reflections above are available in printed form in:
Reflections on the Readings for every day of the Church's year.
Patrick J. Breen, O.Carm. Dublin: Columba Press. 2011. ISBN 978 1 85607 732 3.

And direct from the publishers: Columba Press, Dublin.

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