Last week the first scripture for Daily Mass were excerpts from the first book of the Bible- the Book of Genesis.
The Book of Genesis is about beginnings- the beginnings of creation and the beginning of Israel. Last weeks we listened to select passages about the origins of creation and we learned that these stories did not so much present insights about geology but theology- the revelation of who God is, what God wants and how God acts.
The great overarching theme of the Book of Genesis is the revelation of the one, true God who exposes the fraudulent claims of false gods and warns us about the sheer follow of worshipping false gods as if they were true. This overarching theme of the Book of Genesis is also the theme of the whole Bible.
Idolatry, the worship of false gods, is the capital sin of the Bible.
The Book of Genesis reveals that humanity grasps hold of idolatry at the very beginning. The first human beings aspire to “be like God”, desiring to decide for themselves what is good and evil, and in doing so wrest power away from God so that they can dominate creation, rather than act as stewards.
This signals to us the worst form of idolatry, which is not the worship of mythological beings, but instead is the attempt to make ourselves in gods.
The Book of Genesis reveals the terrifying effects of this idolatry- it causes a catastrophe and opens a wound in humanity through which sin, death, and the devil gain mastery over humanity and spread their influence like an infectious disease. Nothing in creation is immune from this infection.
Today, the Book of Genesis tells us a story, not of creation, but of re-creation. The devastation wrought by idolatry is so intense that God unleashes a great flood to overwhelm the dark powers and in doing so give his creation another chance and humanity an opportunity to rebuild.
Noah and his family construct a great ship, an ark, and this ship becomes the means by which a remnant of creation is saved from the onslaught of divine wrath represented in the great flood.
The imagery of Noah’s ark means many things. The ancient Israelites understood the story of Noah’s ark as a foreshadowing of the temple, into which a remnant of creation would be gathered and from which new life would be unleashed into the world. The worship of the temple, which is the worship of the one, true God, would save and renew the world. Noah’s ark is an image of that temple.
The Fathers of the Church (great saints and scholars from the earliest years of the Church’s life) understood Noah’s ark as an image of the Church, into Christ gathers his creation and guides them to a new creation. The Church’s passage into this new creation is beset by the gusty winds and turbulent waters of history, but ultimately the ship arrives at its appointed destination.
Noah’s ark is an image of the Church.
The understanding of the ark as a temple and as the Church are both helpful ways of understanding the story of the great flood and Noah’s ark from the Book of Genesis.
Today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Mark records a dispute that arose among the disciples of the Lord Jesus and some of the religious and political leadership of the Israelites.
This dispute takes place after the Lord’s miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a miracle that enables the disciples of the Lord Jesus to feed a crowd of five thousand with a few morsels of food.
Christ warns against the influence of the some of the religious and political leaders of the Israelites who either deny the miracle or want to use the miracle to promote their own agendas.
An interesting way to understand this excerpt from the Gospel of Mark is to place it is the context of the Eucharistic Mystery, of which the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a foreshadowing.
In this understanding, Christ’s warning is about our own appropriation of the Eucharistic Mystery- a warning against dabbling in ideas or trends that would make the Eucharist a source of contention or deny or domesticate its strange and mysterious revelation. Further, accept Christ’s warning as his exposing as fraudulent those attempts that would co-opt Holy Communion for the purposes of an ideological agenda or using the Blessed Sacrament to advance our causes.
The warning is this:
The Blessed Sacrament is Divine Fire cast upon the earth. Its purpose is to warm souls who languish in a world gone cold from the power of sin and death. If this Divine Fire is accepted with reverence and love, its radiance offers healing and hope. But if this Divine Fire is misused, the effects will be devastating and overwhelming.