21 February 2015

LENT: POLISHING THE RAINBOW

The First Sunday of Lent
Mk 1:12-15 (Gn 9:8-15 / Ps 25 / 1 Pt 3:18-22)


On this first Sunday of Lent, the Word of God, even before it speaks, already paints something beautiful across the purple sky of Lent: a rainbow!

After the great deluge, God made a covenant with Noah – and through Noah, with all living creatures – that never again would He destroy the earth through a flood.  As a sign of this covenant, God placed a bow in the heavens.  Thus, for a Jew, a rainbow is more than just a rainbow.  A rainbow is a reminder that God keeps His promises.  For us, the same should be true: the real pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is God’s fidelity to His word.

But a rainbow is not a permanent visible fixture in the sky.  It appears only after a rainfall.  Also, it does not always appear after every rain.  And even when the rainfall becomes a raging storm, a rainbow shows itself only after the tempest.  But we believe that a rainbow is up there, somewhere in the sky, because we have faith in God’s faithfulness.

But how about our fidelity to God?  Are we faithful to Him?  As God has a rainbow for us, do we have a rainbow for Him?  Lent is special time for us to polish our rainbow for God just as He makes His rainbow for us shine even brighter after the many rainy days in the past.

We cannot stop the rain.  We cannot calm the storm.  We cannot hasten a rainbow to appear.  All we can do is hope that God would always keep His promise.  We hope because we believe.  And we have not been disappointed yet.

Don’t we say that facing trials in life is going through life’s storms?  In the midst of life’s difficulties, don’t we draw strength from our conviction that Jesus knows what we are going through not only because He is all-knowing but also because He is Emmanuel, “God-With-Us”?  And Jesus does not only know; He also cares!  Yes, He does.  Our faith in the Lord’s caring presence funds our hope in Him: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  We may not always see a rainbow in the sky, but we know that there is certainly one painted in our hearts because He who first painted it in the sky dwells in us.  One of the graces that Lent gives us is the recovery of our sense of awe and wonder at the loving, creative, and saving presence of the great “Rainbow-Maker” in our life.

Whoever wrote the Gospel according to Mark was actually “painting” a rainbow in the heart of every persecuted disciple of Jesus in Rome.  In the year 64 A.D., the Emperor Nero set the Imperial City on fire then blamed the Christians for it.  Thus, the widespread persecution of Christians began.

While Rome burnt for a week, the persecution of Christians lasted for almost three centuries.  Countless followers of Jesus, young and old alike, men and women, were arrested, tortured, humiliated, mutilated, violated, and killed – all to the entertainment of the unbelievers.  Hence, the Christians in Rome lived in constant fear.  Yet their faith in Jesus was more than heroic.  The Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels to have been written, kept the flame of faith in the hearts of the persecuted Christians, strengthening their hope in Christ and sustaining their charity not only for their fellow believers but for their persecutors as well.

Where we stand today in the long and continuing history of the Church, we can only imagine how indescribably strong the temptation for the Christians of that era to compromise their faith in God, to doubt rather than hope in Jesus, and to exchange charity for self-preservation in the face of horrific and sure death.  Many of them gave in and apostatized, but still even more remained steadfast and, by God’s aid and the support of one another, won the wreath of martyrdom.  One can say that in those days, God’s rainbow shone even more brightly against a sky turned scarlet by the blood of the martyrs.

In the skyline of our life, when is God’s rainbow the brightest, the most beautiful, the most appreciated?  And when is our rainbow for Him most needed, most pristine, most true?  Where do God’s rainbow and ours appear?

Very seldom does it rain in the wilderness, but today, in the Gospel, the Word of God also paints a rainbow across the scorching desert sky.  Jesus was tempted by Satan but He triumphed.

In the original Greek text of the Gospel according to Mark, the word used to mean that Jesus was tempted by Satan is peirazo.  Pierazo literally means “tested” as against “lured to sin”.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke also narrate the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  However, in Matthew and Luke, the meaning of Jesus being tempted by the devil is that He was enticed or seduced by the devil to sin.  In the Gospel of Mark, however, Jesus was tempted by Satan by testing Him.  Jesus was put to the test – subjected to trial, made to suffer – and not only tempted to commit sin.  In Pilipino, we may say that in Matthew’s and Luke’s story “si Jesus ay tinukso o inakit ng demonyo” but in Mark “si Jesus ay sinubok ni Satanas”.

The mere mention of “Satan”, in the version of Mark, rather than “devil”, as used by Matthew and Luke, strongly suggests that Jesus was attacked by “the Adversary”, by “the Enemy”, by the one who hinders us from fulfilling God’s will, for that is what the word “Satan” means.  This clearly shows that even before going public, the resolve of Jesus – the Innocent One – was put to the test.

As Matthew and Luke reports that Jesus was not exempted from temptations so does Mark narrate that Jesus was never spared from trials.  As Jesus was tempted to sin so was His fidelity to God tested.  Indeed He is like us in all things, except sin: He experienced both temptations and trials as we normally do.  And when Jesus departed from the desert, Satan never departed from Him, for Satan kept testing His resolution to be faithful to God at all cost.  Take for example, one instance, recognizing another moment of Satan testing His loyalty to God, Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan” because the latter tried to hinder Him from continuing unto fulfilling His mission.  In Mk 8:33, Jesus thus rebuked Simon Peter, saying “Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus faced Satan, and each time He did He won.  But no rainbow appeared after every storm that Jesus went through in His earthly life.  Even as He breathed His last on the cross, the earth shook, the heavens thundered, but dark clouds hid His Father’s bow.  Jesus’ faith in His Father’s love – silent, yes, but abiding – shone even more brightly, conquering the darkness of sin and death.  Even in the seeming absence of any visible sign, Jesus believed in His Father’s fidelity.  He Himself became the new sign of God’s faithfulness to humanity, God’s new Rainbow for every woman and man.  By His resurrection, Jesus became God’s most beautiful Rainbow ever.

When the author of Mark’s Gospel wrote the story of Jesus, he was painting that Rainbow, as it were, across the terrifying sky of the widespread persecution of Christians in Rome.  That Rainbow is Jesus.  That Rainbow is for us, too.  In the midst of trials, not only temptations, we must not lose heart and never give in to fear and despair.  Let us face whoever and whatever Satan is in our life and, with Jesus, let us win.  No rainbow may appear in the sky but, in our hearts, one certainly always shines because Jesus lives there.

Simon Peter, who once was called “Satan”, sings of his and our beautiful “Rainbow”, the brightest, most colorful, and the only “Rainbow” that shines even in the darkest storms: Jesus the Christ.  Having gone through the waters of Baptism, prefigured by the flood in the days of Noah, we carry this “Rainbow” in our hearts.  May It shine in us.  Let It shine through us.  Make It shine and give witness to God’s fidelity to us and our fidelity to Him.

With humble, contrite hearts, enter deeply into the spirit of this holy season: pray better, sacrifice better, and give better.  Then, surely, Lent will reveal God’s “Rainbow” in your heart.








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