A New Beginning?
First Sunday of Lent. fr Anthony provides us with a reflection on the need to be honest about our need for God’s forgiveness.
For us to accept its truth, the Bible must present a recognisable picture of what our lives are like, by showing us what the problems are, how to deal with them and what happens if we make the wrong decisions. It has been accepted as the reference book for Christianity because it best shows, not only what life should be like, but also what life is like. The Bible portrays life as a continual fight to produce order from chaos and to preserve the order that has already been established.
The very first chapter of the Bible tells us how God, at creation, brought order to chaos. According to the Book of Genesis, creation originally consisted of darkness and a formless, watery, turbulent mass from which God separated darkness and light, dry land and water, earth and sky. Today’s reading is from the story of the Flood. People have rejected the natural moral order given to them by God and the chaos of sin has taken over. Sin threatens order in society. Consider what the greed of financiers has done to our society today. Think of what our own greed has done to the stability of the planet and to the lives of countless poor people. Order is being destroyed and there is the threat that universal chaos might return. In the story of the Flood, because of sin, the watery chaos before creation comes back, a graphic illustration that the natural order is destroyed.
But God has chosen the family of Noah to be saved so they can help create order once again. The words of this new creation are very similar to those of the first creation. Human beings are again given mastery over the world, but this time there is a difference. Men and women will not have the easy relationship they had with the world before things went wrong. There may be a new creation of sorts after the Flood but it isn’t the new beginning that we might think. God doesn’t start from scratch. He doesn’t separate the waters again but merely turns off the taps. Nor does he create the human race anew but uses the survivors, hoping that things will turn out better this time.
Human beings are obsessed with fresh starts and new beginnings. We always want to turn over a new leaf, to make New Year’s resolutions, to begin again for Lent. But experience tells us that there is no such thing. The more experience of life we gain, the more we realise that we can’t start anew because we are the same people. Whatever we do, we take ourselves with us. This means that not long after our fresh start, we are in the same boat as we were before it. The danger is that we might get so disillusioned with ourselves that we will stop trying. Maybe the whole concept of fresh starts is wrong. In the Gospel reading we hear how John was baptising people in the River Jordan, trying to put some order back into their chaotic lives. Jesus joined them but having got some kind of order into his life from that, chaos soon returned when he was driven by the Spirit into the desert, that place of chaos where mankind doesn’t have control. Jesus emerges from this experience of life in all its chaotic complexity ready to proclaim the Good News.
But to receive salvation we must admit that we need to be saved. We have to recognise that we will never be able to bring order to our lives. We do want to be charitable, selfless, kind and forgiving, yet we always fail to live up to our aspirations. And it is precisely this being doomed to failure that Jesus redeemed. He brought the good news that even though we can never start afresh, every time we repent, every time we turn our lives towards the good, that is a new beginning in the eyes of God. We know we are going to fail, and God knows we are going to fail, yet the good news is that it doesn’t matter. So long as we keep trying, so long as we continue sincerely to repent, then that’s all God asks of us. We may not be able to create ourselves anew, but every time we repent and believe the gospel, we become a new creation.
Readings: Genesis 9:8-15 | 1 Peter 3:18-22 | Mark 1:12-15