Sunday, February 18, 2024

Reaching to the Roots

1st Sunday in Lent (B)

Readings: Genesis 9: 8-15; Psalm 24 (25): 4-6, 7b-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15

Picture: By Lucia Sorrentino on Unsplash

My dear friends, can you imagine what the home of a hoarder looks like? Filled with so much clutter, there’s hardly any room for the residents to move around. Even the neighbours are affected. What to do? Will it be enough just to gather some volunteers to help clear out the junk, and clean up the house? Probably not. As the old Chinese proverb goes, weeds that are cut without removing their roots will grow again once the spring winds blow (斩草不除根,春风吹又生). And the roots of hoarding are often strong and complex. Requiring deeper engagement to adequately understand and properly address.

Isn’t this also what our scriptures tell us about sin? In the first reading, after having swept away all sinful flesh in a great flood, God offers Noah and the other survivors a fresh start, by entering into a Covenant with them. But we know that this ancient spring-cleaning project doesn't eradicate sin at its roots. Before long, the weeds will grow again. Even so, for us Christians, the story of Noah has a deeper meaning.

The second reading reminds us that the ancient waters of the flood point to the sacramental waters of Baptism, in which we have been washed, and for which our catechumens are now preparing. Sacred waters that draw their healing power from Christ himself. Whose innocent blood seals a new Covenant, just as the rainbow signals the one God made with Noah. Showing that though the roots of sin are strong and complex, God’s patience and loving mercy are even stronger and more enduring. Prompting Jesus to immerse himself in our human reality, and free us from the soul-cluttering effects of sin.

Isn’t this the deeper meaning of today’s gospel? Although himself without sin, Jesus submits to being baptised by John. Signifying the Lord’s deep immersion in our human fragility. But the roots of sin go beyond fragility. They’re also due to seduction by Evil. Which is why, immediately after his baptism, and before he begins his public ministry, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. Where the Lord both suffers and also triumphs over temptation. Proving that, by his Life, Death and Resurrection, the Lord has the power to eradicate sin at its roots. And we can claim this power for ourselves, if only we keep submitting ourselves to Christ. Surrendering more and more of our lives to the workings of his Spirit.

Isn’t this why we observe Lent? Through the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we allow Jesus to lead us into the wilderness of our own hearts. So often cluttered with attitudes and tendencies that prevent us from experiencing the peace and joy of the Spirit. Dispositions that may remain hidden even from ourselves. Through the self-denial of Lent, we allow Jesus to help us uncover the roots of our sinfulness. Such as the insecurity that may drive our anxious striving and obsessive need for control. Or the emptiness and pain that can lead us to fall prey to addictions of one kind or another.

Sisters and brothers, if sin is truly even more complex than hoarding, then how might we allow the Lord to touch and heal us from our roots this Lent? 

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