Our readings today address the topic of: when is enough enough? It rises to the fore in the saga of Noah. It is also present in the incident presenting itself to Jesus and His apostles as the question of Jesus’ identity continues to engage the followers of Jesus, especially the twelve.
So far as Noah is concerned, he emerges to the fore as a kind of response to God’s growing exasperation with the way the descendants of Adam and Eve went about living their lives, in an ever descending spiral exasperating God Who “ regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved. (Gen. 6.6) But “Noah found favor with the Lord.” (6.7)
So, under God’s guidance, Noah built the ark to house those members of his family, who managed to remain faithful to the Lord, including pairs of all the animals and fowl that graced the surface of the earth at that time. (In Kentucky there is a replica of the ark, built according to the specifications provided Noah, as we read them in Gn. 6. 14-22. It is about 50 miles south of Cincinnati, and is larger than most visitors anticipate).
After everyone of Noah’s people was suitably provided for, it started raining, for forty days and forty nights, as a result of which the entire earth was engulfed in water, and all forms of life were drowned except those in the ark, and in the sea itself (since fish could survive on their own). And it seems that the fowl of the air found safe passage on the ark itself. The rain eventually subsided, but the waters continued to rise for 150 days (Gen.7.24). And then God provided the rainbow as a beautiful remembrance “of the covenant” God established between Himself and every living creature. And it seems that God regretted having (practically) exterminated the human race from the face of the earth. (Gn. 21)
So Noah became a kind of second Adam, as he and his descendants repopulated the earth. Through him God gave us all a second chance. And this time God provided an improved version of starting over again, not in terms of Noah himself, but in view of Jesus Himself, Who was yet to come as Redeemer of the world, beginning a totally new dispensation or arrangement for our benefit.
We hear of this in the day’s gospel as Jesus pursues an issue of extreme interest to Him: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mk. 8.27)
How pleased He must have been at hearing Peter answer: “You are the Messiah”. Not even Noah anticipated this momentous response of Peter. But Peter himself failed to appreciate the magnitude of what he said, since a few minutes later, he flubbed his chance to show he fully understood Jesus when Jesus began to describe the death He was to undergo at the hands of “the elders, the chief priests and the scribes” (Mk. 8.31, ff.) precisely because He claimed the title of Messiah for Himself. Peter could not handle this challenge of the Messiah revealing His coming sufferings and death. So Jesus had to put him in his place.
Noah and Peter make an unlikely team in conveying God’s message to us, each in his own way. And for this we are grateful.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.