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A reflection for the first Sunday of Lent

David Cloutier reflects on the readings for February 21, 2021.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B)

Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

Reflection: Turn and trust

The first Sunday of Lent is like an emergency alert on the radio or your phone. It’s an alarm bell going off. We hear the first words of Jesus’ ministry, “This is the time of fulfillment.” In other years, we hear St. Paul telling us, “Now is the day of salvation.” We know what a phone alert or an alarm means: They tell us to do something.

But what? And why? The rest of Jesus’ statement answers those questions. The “what” is clear: repent and believe. Turn and trust.

The notion of “repentance” is weightier than simply acknowledging this or that sin. It is really a matter of changing our minds and hearts. When we give something up for Lent, we ought to consider turning away from some way of being that has taken control of us, captivating our daily lives, flooding us, drawing us ever more tightly into the less important. Such turning is likely hard, but the goal is not self-improvement through willpower. The goal is reached through the other part: trusting. It comes from seeing the rainbow and really believing that the news God brings is good. It is not about me as an individual becoming a better person (although let’s hope that happens!); It’s about opening myself in trust to the signs of what God is doing in me, but even more importantly, in the world.

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And why is “now” the time to turn and trust? One way to understand this week’s readings is because it’s time for the flood. When Jesus arrives on the scene, he announces the Kingdom of God is at hand. The waiting of dozens of generations of God’s people is over. The old sinful order is going to be wiped out because the new order is arriving. It’s important to understand that all this is first and foremost God’s doing, not ours. Once we hear the news, the first task is to be like Noah: Get the ark ready to ride it out.

Jesus is, of course, a different kind of flood. God promises that the decisive triumph over sin, evil, and death will not be literally a flood or the drowning of Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea. But it will be like that: the utter defeat of those who live in the ways of the world.

We should be troubled by the image of the flood, for it is double-edged. On the one hand, it is death and destruction—God promises not to do it again. On the other hand, as the second reading says, it is baptism—a total cleansing, a power washing.

When we pray for God’s will to be done, we should remember that it will likely look double-edged. It will clean things up—but at a price. God calls us to repentance and new life, freely, and God pays the price. But only if we are prepared to go into the floodwaters of baptism ourselves. To turn and trust. Will we?

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About the author

David Cloutier

David Cloutier is an associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and editor of catholicmoraltheology.com.

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