Today’s Mass readings are fascinating. How so? Well, other than during Easter season and certain feasts, there is always a typological logic that links the first reading and the Gospel, i.e. the Old Testament reading contains in some way a prefiguring of what is revealed in the Gospel. As St. Augustine worded it,
[God’s] grace hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages, inasmuch as God knew how to dispose all things.
So at Mass the Gospel is meant to unveil Christ hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Looking at the first reading today, which is the conclusion of the Noah story in Genesis, and the Gospel, which is Mark’s terse account of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, I wondered what the link was. Here’s just a tiny thought, flowing from my overactive imagination.
First, I wondered why the Lectionary Gospel text leaves out a word at the very beginning of the sentence. The Lectionary begins, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,” but in the biblical text itself the sentence begins with the Greek word, euthys, which means “at once” or “immediately.” So the text actually reads, “Immediately, the Spirit drove…”
Why does it matter? Well, the “immediately” refers back to the previous scene in Mark’s Gospel, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Recall that as soon as Jesus comes up out of the water and heard the voice of the Father thunder, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert. So the word “at once” makes me think something about the baptism of the spotless Lamb into John the Baptist’s filthy waters of repentance leads inexorably toward His Spirit-driven desert confrontation with the ancient Tempter of humanity, Satan.
In the Jordan, Jesus sanctifies all waters, readying them for their true vocation: to rescue, wash clean and re-birth humanity as sons and daughters of God. In the water-starved desert for 40 days, Jesus is thrust out to conquer the ancient Serpent who, at the beginning of human history, led humanity from the Garden into a ruinous wilderness. Or again, like the scapegoat driven into the wilderness (cf Leviticus 16:10) bearing the sins of Israel, Jesus, still soaked with the sin-laden waters of repentance, is driven by the eternal Spirit into the desert to face directly and defeat the primal origins of evil. The desert — a symbol for death, temptation, sin, the haunt of demons — becomes, paradoxically, the very place Jesus first inaugurates the kingdom of God, making springs of life-giving water flow from the desert (cf Isaiah 41:18) into all who “repent and believe” in this astonishing Euangeliō — this Good News that comes from the mouth of the New Adam, the New Noah.
Allow Jesus to face the Tempter for you today. Repent and believe, i.e. renounce the Destroyer and cling to the Conqueror!