1 Peter 3:18-22
In 2016, a theme park was opened in Grant County, Kentucky, featuring a replica of Noah's ark that cost over 100 million dollars to construct. It was made to the size specifications handed down in Genesis, or at least a reasonable interpretation of them, the cubit being a measure which is imprecise and varied according to how long a person's forearm was. The builders had several purposes for their project, including as a religious vacation attraction, but their main goal to prove that their fundamentalist view of the bible was indeed possible, that Noah could have placed a pair of every land animal of the world into a ship of this size. I have not been there, and therefore cannot speak directly on this point, although I remain skeptical. But I think that those that focus on proving every jot and tittle of the account miss the true meaning of the story of Noah. I remember as a kid being interested in figuring it out too, this seeming impossibility, and looking back I was also missing the point.
The first reading today comes not from the building of the ark, nor its provisioning, nor in the zoo-keeping ability of Noah's family. It comes from the end of the account, the moral of the story. God made a covenant with all living things: no matter how sinful people became, he would not give up on His creation. He gives us the rainbow as a sign of this covenant, as an eternal reminder that no matter how dark and stormy it becomes, God is there with us and will see it through and be there at the end. This is, in my opinion, what we should be spending our time trying to evangelize to others, what we should be focusing on when we contemplate God's meaning in our lives, and how we can live up to our end of this covenant. Now that we are in Lent, this is what we should be praying about, following the lead of Christ in the desert.
The other readings for today have clues to how we should behave in light of this covenant. Peter in the second reading tells us that the waters that caused destruction in the time of Noah are turned by Christ into the saving waters of baptism. Christ is now our ark who, if we will join Him, will bring us safely to our salvation. The Responsorial Psalm, taken from Psalm 25, is a song of thanksgiving to God for his covenants with us, and supplication for His divine guidance. Finally, the Gospel is the biblical basis for our forty days of Lent, time spent in contemplation and prayer. And at the end of those forty days, Jesus is not looking backward, telling us how things were or proving each verse of a bible, but is preaching a gospel of today and what we need to do now and into the future. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” [Mark 1:15 NABRE].
During the Second Vatican Council, the holy fathers wrote a document on how to read and understand Scripture. They were responding to criticism of some, including Protestants but also some Catholic theologians, that most lay Catholics did not read and study the bible as much as they should. The lectionary we use at Mass today was significantly revised in response to this and made much better and more comprehensive. In this council document Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum, they gave this guidance when reading the bible: “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for a reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text). However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words” [Dei verbum 11-12].
If I can phrase this in my own words, the Bible was not written or intended to be a science class text or a comprehensive history, although it has certain aspects of both. It was written by people under the inspiration of God to instruct people on how to live in this world so as to gain salvation in the next. Discussing other aspects, such as the fact that much of it was beautifully written and an example of some of the best ancient literature, is interesting as a conversation topic but, like discussing the weather or the performance of your favorite sports team last night, doesn't result in one moving closer to being with God. Change of behavior is was matters, and it is the goal of Lent that we all spend substantial time in prayer and reflection doing just that.
We will have many opportunities to do this at Saint James between now and Easter. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is always available, and there are additional opportunities during our Lenten Penance Service on March 24. The Stations of the Cross began last Friday and will be held on every Friday at 6:00 in English. Perpetual adoration is always looking for more people to spend some time with the Lord. On Tuesday nights there is a weekly Lenten book study on Catholic Social Teaching. There are many others, but I'll just add one more: all ministries are looking for additional members, and this may be the time to see if you can help out one of them. During Lent, we often give up something as a sacrifice to help prepare ourselves and focus attention on our study of what is really important in life. Let me suggest that, in addition to giving up something, we replace that something with a deliberate giving of ourselves to our Church in one of these areas.
As we continue with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us focus on what this Sacrament truly means in our lives. Let us look past the details which complicate everyday life and look at what is truly important, in a way that helps cement our covenant with God. As we make our pilgrimage to Good Friday, let us remember that God's message of salvation does not stop there, but must go through Good Friday as it reaches its true meaning on Easter morning, the fulfillment of God’s greatest covenant.