Thursday of Week 6 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 9:1-13

After the flood God extends his blessings over Noah and his family and over all the animals that have survived. Furthermore, the mandate given to the man in the garden is repeated.  The family of Noah, effectively the ancestors of all humanity, are to be fruitful and multiply.  In addition, Noah and his descendants are given responsibility and lordship over every living thing – on the earth, in the air, in the water

In the Garden, Man had been blessed and was consecrated lord of creation; he is now blessed and consecrated anew.  All creatures are now at his disposal.  Now, not only are plants given as food (as was the case in the Garden) but the other creatures, too, like animals, may be taken as food, used for doing heavy work (e.g. ploughing) and for their skins (e.g. to make tents and clothes).  In the Garden, where all needs were readily available, there was no need to work nor, in their innocence, to wear clothes.  Humans and animals alike were plant-eaters only.  Now the animal can become the victim of Man’s needs.

And, with the eating of animals, a new element is introduced with the prohibition to eat meat in which blood, the source of life, has not been already removed.  Israelite law also forbade eating animal flesh torn in the field by other animals (here, there is a reading back into pre-history of regulations that only were legislated for later on).

Furthermore, there is to be absolute respect for human life, no spilling of human blood, for every human person is in the image of God.  Animals, too, were to be punished if they caused the death of a human person.  According to the Mosaic law, a domestic animal that had taken human life was to be stoned to death.

Because a living being dies when it loses most of its blood, the ancients regarded blood as the seat of life, and therefore as sacred.  Although in itself, the prohibition against eating meat with blood in it is comparable to the ritual laws of the Mosaic code, the Jews considered it binding on everyone, because it was given by God to Noah, the new ancestor of all mankind. And so the early Christian Church retained this restriction for a time (Acts 15:20,29).

God himself is the great defender of human life, which is precious to him because Man was created in his image, and because Man is the earthly representative and focal point of God’s kingdom. 

God then makes his first covenant with mankind to last forever, a covenant which includes every living thing that was with Noah in the ark.

No thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood.  There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.

The sign of that covenant is a rainbow crossing the skies.  Rain and the rainbow doubtless existed long before the time of Noah’s flood, but after the flood the rainbow took on new meaning as the sign of the covenant with Noah.  Every time it appeared, it was a reminder of the covenant.  Rainbows, too, are the sign of sunshine after rain.

The covenant with Noah, the sign of which is the rainbow, involves the whole of creation.  Later covenants will be more specific.  The covenant with Abraham, the sign of which is circumcision, was to be limited to his descendants only (Gen 17).  The covenant with Moses was to be confined to Israel alone and entailed corresponding obligations: fidelity to the Law and to Sabbath observance in particular (for a list of covenants, see the section about this in NIV Study Bible).

For us, of course, the final covenant is the New Testament between God and the world, signed in the blood of Jesus on the Cross and celebrated in every Eucharist.  But each one of us can and does dishonour this Covenant every time we violate the Way that Jesus has shown us.  This New Covenant is renewed every time we celebrate the Eucharist together, but the keeping of this covenant depends on how we live our daily lives in our relationship with God, with those around us and with ourselves.

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