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How does Temptation and Noah Teach Us That Lent is About the Right Disposition?

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

Given at St. Jude, February 11, 2024

By Deacon Ken Steponaitis


I don’t know about you, but I very often do not listen to many of the prayers that are prayed during the mass such as the opening prayer, or the prayer prayed over the gifts before consecration. But if we do, what we will find is that they usually present to us an overarching theme of the mass.


If you ever wanted to know, for example what purpose Lent serves, one prayer you can listen to is the one that the priest prays over the bread and wine, this first Sunday of Lent, just before he consecrates the two offerings. Here is what he says …

“Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray, to make these offerings, for with them we celebrate the beginning of this venerable and sacred time.”


In other words, if you really want to know the purpose of Lent, it is to put us into the right disposition or frame of mind to ultimately accept the greatest theological truth. That God has made a covenant with us … a promise that is unbreakable. If we can come to accept that covenant, come to really believe that God means what He says, our lives will be changed forever.


When I was child, I heard the story of Noah’s Ark. And as a child, if you were to ask me what the story is all about, I may have said something like this …

There were a bunch of bad people in the world that God did not like. But he found one person, Noah who he did like. To get rid of the people he didn’t like he was going to send a great flood and so he didn’t want Noah and all the animals to die, so he told Noah to build a big boat. And that is what Noah did. He built this big boat that he could get on with the animals and when the flood came, he was saved and all those bad people died. After the flood, God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never destroy the world again. The end!


The problem with the story of Noah as I understood it as a kid was that it made it seem as though God made a terrible mistake by destroying the earth with a flood, but then realized the mistake. But if God is all loving and all-knowing, this portrayal of God can’t be right.


If you read the second reading for today, Peter says that the story of Noah “prefigured baptism.” What this means is, the story of Noah is not about some vengeful God that somehow made the mistake of destroying the world with a flood, rather, it is about a God who wants to save the good and destroy evil.


When we enter the waters of baptism, while water can certainly wipe away the impurities on the outside of our body, it does something more. It saves our soul, the very goodness of who we are and re-connects us to God. In that moment of baptism, the Holy Spirit enters into us. We become temples of the Holy Spirit. We are reunited with God. When Adam and Eve decided that they no longer needed God in order to survive, God allowed them to separate themselves from God. Something we call original sin.

The flood being depicted in the story of Noah could be likened to the flood of sin and evil that had permeated the world. God was not going about to destroy the world, God was going about to destroy evil and it’s affects. This is why Peter says it prefigures baptism.


And there is one other thing that God did in the story of Noah. He made a covenant. Not that the covenant hadn’t already been made, but God wanted us to be reminded of the covenant that has always been in place, every time we see a rainbow.


What is the covenant? It’s quite simple really. God wants to save you and me and anyone who is willing to accept the gift, the promise. That is why the Church today says, “Give us the right dispositions, O Lord.”


Every first Sunday of Lent, we read some version of Jesus being driven into the desert to be tempted. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus, who is God, is being driven into the desert? Almost as though he is being forced into this foreboding place. A place of discomfort, a place of danger and evil, a place where we don’t have what we need to survive.


It is in extreme discomfort that we are most vulnerable, that we are most willing to give into temptations. And it is in this most uncomfortable place that we also need to turn to God to keep from falling to evil and sin, and it is in this place we must have the right disposition.


How did Jesus overcome his temptations? Well, being God doesn’t hurt. But Jesus didn’t need to enter the desert either. As God he didn’t even need to become human, and for that matter, Jesus didn’t even need to suffer and die to save us. God could have wiped out all of humanity, even Noah, because if you read the end of the story of Noah, as good as Noah was, even at the end of the story of Noah we read about his sins. God had no reason to save Noah if his goal was to wipe out everything that was not perfect.


Jesus overcame his human temptations because he knew the covenant God had made with humanity. The covenant is simple. Love God with all your heart, mind and spirit, and your neighbor as yourself, and you too will enter the glory that Jesus did in His resurrection. That we too will be resurrected, not just from physical death at the end of our time, but every time we fall into the snares of evil and sin, God patiently waits for us to come out of the waters of evil and sin and is ready to grasp our hands and pull us to the shores of tranquility.


I was talking to my wife the other day and she told me something that I think most of us think about … Lent is such a downer. And it is if we let be that way. I have to admit, I look forward to Lent being over. But is that the right disposition? Should our disposition be, ok let’s get this started and over with as quickly as possible. Let me give up some chocolate, and I can’t wait to eat it again!


That’s the kind of attitude I had as a kid. I misunderstood the story of Noah and I continue to miss the point of Lent.


Let’s face it, it’s silly for us to fast the way the Church asks us to fast. One meal and then two smaller ones that don’t add up to one … That’s not even a fast. But that’s not the point. The point is, the season of Lent, if we let it, through our prayers, and fasting and alms giving, that we are led back to understanding this incredible promise that God has made.


That we, even though we are sinners, are loved so much that God is willing to do anything to get us back. If we can take these 40 days of Lent to come to that conclusion … everything changes! The flood waters subside, the earth is renewed, and we enter into a glorious place the Jesus calls the Kingdom of God! So repent (have a change in attitude), change your disposition, believe in the good news!


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