2/18: Cleansing and Life

Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP • Flickr • bit.ly/2EnxmGl

1 Lent, February 18

Gen. 9:8-17Ps. 25:1-91 Pet. 3:18-22Mark 1:9-15

Many people try their best every day to fulfill obligations, meet moral duty, and face the demands and privileges of love. They try and they fail, but they try, and those who endure to the end will be saved. It is a virtue to love justice and mercy, but a virtue embedded in pangs of guilt.

All progress in the moral life incites a deeper and more sensitive awareness of the lurking and alluring power of evil. There are ministering angels among us and within us, to be sure, but demons too who roar and wait for the right moments to elicit visceral and vile evil. “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” I cannot do it perfectly. Even goodness is tainted; self-examination exposes a false conscience. A terrible fall is never far from human virtue.

God looks and loves. God stoops to behold the heavens and the earth. God sees the evil that good people do and the sparks of goodness still resident in those who have given themselves to salacious desire and calculating greed. God plans a great and dramatic purging of evil in the telling of an ancient story. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made mankind on the earth, and it grieved him to the heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them’” (Gen. 6:5-8). Then a flood of water came on the earth, a purging baptism from which emerged only Noah and his family, living things enough to produce their kind, and plants for food. The water is baptism, the ark a holy church.

After the storm, “God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature, that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark” (Gen. 9:9-10). God says, “Never again!” Giving the rainbow as a sign, God promises, “I will remember my covenant … the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen. 9:15-16). The wrath of pounding rain is spent. Evil has been swept away.

Jesus takes upon himself all the evil of the world and is put to death in the flesh. Prefiguring his death, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). Though perfectly righteous, he accepts an ablution proper to the unrighteous (1 Pet. 3:18). Having drawn all humanity into himself, his enacted cleansing is a real presence to the sinner, a real washing and making new. In Christ, all things are being made new, and all evil put to flight. Jesus is, in his body and whole being, the womb of a divinized humanity. At his death and from his side a new being comes forth, radiant with the Holy Spirit.

Imagine the lived reality of being made utterly new in Christ. It has been noted, for instance, that in the early Christian catacombs adult-sized coffins sometimes bore an epitaph indicating the deceased was an infant, that is to say, newly baptized. Are we new? Have we come through the flood of baptism? Are we babes in Christ? God knows.

Look It Up
Read Psalm 25:1.

Think About It
Come up out of the water.


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