The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 3, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

As Christians we must endure tests

Baptism is more than the forgiveness of sins, but a birth to a new life

March 12, First Sunday of Lent

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

The temptation story in the Gospel of Mark is especially succinct and direct. We are simply told that after Jesus' baptism he was driven by the Spirit into the desert and remained there for forty days.

Each word has a special meaning. The role of the Spirit in the First Testament is powerful and directing. The Spirit filled the leaders of Israel and the prophets, enabling them to fulfill their roles. The desert or wilderness was a place with different meanings. It was a dangerous place with wild animals and bandits. Yet, it was also the place in which Israel had been tested by God and had experienced the power of God. The forty days are symbolic, recalling the forty days that both Moses and Elijah had fasted in the desert.

It is in the desert that Jesus is tested. In earlier times Satan was seen as an adversary and one who tested people. Read the early chapters of Job to see this role. Now Satan in Jesus' time is seen as the personification of evil who is in conflict with God. Jesus prepares for his ministry in the desert and determines how he will approach his mission. What tests he had to face are not spelled out in Mark, as they will be later in Matthew and Luke.

What we do know is that, based upon his experiences, the theme of his preaching is developed. And so after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus goes to Galilee and begins to preach. His message is direct. God's plan is defined and is now being implemented. The Kingdom of God is breaking into history in a forceful way. People must respond by a complete change of attitude.

This is the special meaning of repent. They should accept Jesus' message that is good news or gospel. To accept the will or reign of God means that people will have to change their lives. For Mark, when he writes his gospel, this means accepting Jesus as the one who brings the Kingdom into being.

Our first reading describes God making a covenant with Noah, which means establishing a special relationship with him. After the destruction of the flood, God promises to help all creation be restored. The rainbow in the heavens is a sign of this covenant and reminds God of this promise. Note that all creation must and will be restored to a proper order. All creation is a sign to us of God's love and, therefore, we must care for it well.

The responsorial psalm emphasizes that we need God's guidance in our life. We need God's help in our search for living in righteousness. There is, like the reading from Genesis, an emphasis on the covenant relationship we have with God. It calls for the living out of the obligations of that relationship.

The author of the reading from First Peter sees the story of Noah and the flood as prefiguring of Christ and baptism. Just as Noah saved others from the waters so Christ through the waters of baptism save those who accept him. This means baptism is more than the forgiveness of sins but a birth to a new and lasting life, which transforms us.

All of the readings recognize the testing that we as Christians must endure. Yet, since through baptism we now have a special relationship with God, like Christ, the Spirit will guide us. Lent becomes a time for us to reflect on God's love and our relationship with the Lord.

(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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