Homily for the First Sunday of Lent February 18, 2024

The God of the Flood? Or the God of the Rainbow?


A young boy sat on the front porch of a farmhouse with his grandfather. They heard a car coming down the seldom traveled dirt road. When the driver of the car, bearing out-of-state plates, saw them on the front porch, he stopped to ask directions to a nearby town.


After receiving directions, the driver walked back toward his car, and then turned and asked, “Say, mister, what are folks like around here?”


“Why do you ask?” the grandfather responded.


The stranger said, “I just left a town where the people were a bunch of snobs. I’ve never been around people who were less friendly in my life. Why, I lived in that town for over a year, and never once did I feel a part of the community.”


The old man replied, “I guess that’s about the way you’ll find folks around here.”

A few hours later, another car stopped in front of the farmhouse where the two still sat on the porch. The driver, with a big smile on her face, strolled up the front walk and asked, “Tell me, what are the folks around here like?”


Once again the old farmer questioned, “Why do you ask?”


“You see,” she replied, “I’m moving here from one of the nicest little towns you could ask for. The people made me feel so much at home there. The neighbors were so friendly. I felt I had lived there all my life.”


“Well,” said the old man, “you’ll find the people around here pretty much the same.”


The woman got into her car and drove off. The boy turned to his grandfather with a puzzled expression and asked, “Grandpa, why did you give those strangers opposite answers to the same question?”


The grandfather put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered, “Because, laddie, it’s a person’s attitude toward a community that determines how people will respond to them.”


A person’s attitude toward community has a lot to do with how that person sees, understands and interacts with people. I think it might be the same with the image we have of God. And as we get into this Lenten season, I’d like to consider this question: What is our attitude toward God? How do we see, understand and interact with God?


For example, in our first reading today we have heard part of the story of Noah and the ark. We’re probably most familiar with the God of the flood, the God who punishes evil by wiping it out and starting all over again. But today we have heard the end of the story: not the God of the flood, but the God of the rainbow. God enters an agreement, or a covenant with humanity, promising “never again shall there be a flood to devastate the earth.”


Our Responsorial Psalm takes us in the direction of the God of the rainbow: “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” And in the verses we have words like: teach me your paths…compassion…love from of old…kindness…goodness…good and upright…teaching the humble.


So, here, at the beginning of Lent, it feels good to ask ourselves: What is my image of God? The God of the flood? Or the God of the rainbow? As you go through the Bible you find both, but as you go along, there is a development that takes place. Whenever anyone came up to Jesus and asked for forgiveness, Jesus never refused. Even at the last hour, in the case of the so-called “good thief,” Jesus promised that “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” The ones Jesus seemed to have problems with were the ones who believed that they had no need of forgiveness, that they were better than everyone else. It was those with an arrogant attitude that were often condemned.


If you stop to examine the attitudes of the self-righteous, it seems that they believed in the God of the flood, the God of punishment and damnation—but for everyone else, and not themselves. They felt they were too good to be stuck with such a God. Their attitude poisoned the way they saw and interacted with the community. For example, in the story of the two men who went up to the temple to pray, it was the humble one, who beat his breast and asked for mercy, who was justified. The arrogant one bragged about himself to the God of the rainbow, but condemned the other man to the God of the flood. And Jesus taught that the judgment you pass on others will be the judgment passed on you. You can’t have it both ways, the God of rainbows for yourself, and the God of the flood for those you consider less deserving.


So spend some time this week, praying over your attitude, both toward people and toward God. Which is it? The God of the flood? Or the God of the rainbow?