Wednesday of Week 6 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22

We read today of the end of the Flood, as the rain stops and the waters recede.  In the meantime, every living thing on land was totally wiped out. Of course, the underwater creatures survived and perhaps even thrived in the flood conditions given there was likely so much dead carrion available! But in myth stories one does not quibble about such details.  What matters is the central meaning of the story.

After the 40 days, God remembered Noah and his family, and all the living things that were with him in the ark.  Then, a drying wind blew, the outlets for water in the earth and the “windows” in the vault of the heavens through which rain came were closed, and the waters began to recede.  But it was not until 7 months and 17 days later that the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, in present-day Turkey, and it was only in the 10th month that the tops of the mountains began to appear.

And it was not until 40 days after that (in other words, they were in the ark for the best part of a year) that Noah sent out a raven.  It flew back and forth until, eventually, the waters had dried up from the earth.  Then it never came back, possibly because it feasted on dead bodies it found everywhere.  The raven could represent one of the unclean animals on board the ark.

Then a dove (probably regarded a clean animal – and a vegetarian!) was sent out, but when the dove could not find any place to land, it returned to the ark.  After another seven days the dove was sent out again and this time it returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak – a clear sign that the waters had receded a good deal.  Olive trees do not grow at high altitudes.  The dove with the olive branch has ever since become the universal sign of peace and flourishing life. 

After another seven days the dove was sent out again and this time it did not return.  It had found a place to live.  Noah knew that he, his family, and all the animals could now safely leave the ark.  He opened the entrance hatch of the ark, looked out and saw that the face of the earth was drying up again.  It was only when it was completely dry that he gave the order to leave the ark.

After they had all disembarked, Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings (a holocaust) from each of the clean animals that had been in the ark (this could be done because seven pairs of each kind of clean animal had been taken into the ark).  This offering was in thanksgiving to God for their being saved.  God was pleased with the “fragrant odour” of this sacrifice, and pledged never to curse the earth again because of the sins of humanity, nor would he destroy all living creatures again, although individuals might be punished.  Because “the inclination of the human heart is evil from the earliest years”.  The heart is the centre of all religious awareness and morality – the source of both virtue and sin.  And the tendency to sin did not lessen after the Flood.

The reading ends with a verse which seems to have been a popular proverb or saying:

As long as earth lasts,
sowing and reaping,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night,
shall cease no more.

In other words, as long as our world endures, the rhythm of nature and of the seasons will never be disrupted in this way again. 

In fact, over the centuries this pledge has been kept, although from time to time there have been massive calamities which have brought death and destruction and often changed the face of a particular region forever.  Our main concern nowadays is not from natural calamities which, ironically, can sometimes also bring benefits in the long term, but the disasters which may arise from our misuse and abuse of the earth’s resources and the danger of irreversible damage to the delicate balance of nature.  Each one of us can play a positive role in reversing this trend.

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