A new covenant

First Sunday in Lent; 21 February 2021; Lent 1B (RCL); Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15.

The temptation story in Mark’s Gospel seems rather truncated compared to Matthew and Luke, until one remembers that Mark wrote his account first. Matthew and Luke added Q material to Mark’s account, as well as some of their own material. But they leave out an interesting detail. Mark mentions that Jesus was with the wild beasts.

I don’t know that I have heard or preached a sermon on the wild beasts in Mark’s account. That’s too bad. The Revised Common Lectionary pairs the reading from Mark with the account in Genesis of the new covenant with Noah. Erica Olson-Bang had a profound insight that the story of Jesus’ temptation in Mark and the story of Noah are linked. Jesus is in the wilderness 40 days; it rained on Noah for 40 days. Noah released a dove who brought back an olive branch with the flood had receded; the spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove (after the heavens are torn open, which happened in the Noah story when the rain started). Noah loaded the ark with domestic and wild beasts; Jesus is with the wild beasts.

After the flood, God established a covenant with all flesh that never again would a flood destroy all flesh. Before the flood, God had determined that humanity was irredeemably sinful, and so God determined to destroy all humankind except Noah and his family (the eight people mentioned in the reading from 1 Peter — Noah, his three sons, and all their wives). An obvious difference between the Noah story and the temptation story is the amount of water involved. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river. The flood covers the face of the earth.

But this may in fact highlight another difference. In the covenant established by Jesus’ baptism, humanity is given the opportunity to repent, rather than simply being wiped out. In the covenant with Noah, God promised that never again would humanity (or other flesh for that matter) be wiped out by a flood. That doesn’t mean that humanity would be less sinful and evil than they had been before the flood, but only that they would be given the chance for repentance.

Jesus’ presence with the wild beasts points to Noah’s presence with the beasts on the ark. When God had created the heavens and the earth, God had given humanity stewardship over all of creation, including the animals. Not until the Noahnic covenant was humanity given permission to eat flesh. The original covenant at creation required the stewardship of creation, including animals. Is it possible that Mark is hinting that the kingdom of God which Jesus is announcing involves a restoration of that stewardship? The Noahnic covenant involved all of humanity, not just the Abrahamic line. It would make sense for Mark to nod to Noah’s covenant at the beginning of the story of the restoration of the covenant with all humanity. The covenant established in Jesus will include all foods (Jesus declares all foods clean) and all people, including Gentiles.

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