Something wicked this way comes

In the first reading for today we encounter the well-known account of Noah as he is commissioned by God to gather all living creatures that would survive the Flood. (Just for the record, please note that Noah collected seven pairs of every clean animal and one pair of unclean animals.) But the reading begins ominously: “When the LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.” (Gen 6:5-7)

It is good to pause and think about the series of first readings recently presented: they trace the arc of sin and evil in the world. We have moved from the original sin of Adam and Eve, through the first murder when Cain killed his brother Abel, and now we have reached the point where wickedness has grown so great that God regretted his creation He once called “very good.”

Genesis 5 is often skipped as it is a long genealogy from Adam to Noah (that started in Gen 4:17), but there are key elements to note:

  • Adam and Eve had another son Seth (Hebrew root meaning replacement) whose son Enosh is noted as beginning worship of God (Gen 4:26)
  • Cain’s lineage includes Lamech whose evil is noted when he says: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for bruising me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Gen 4:23-24)
  • All of these people were said to live for hundreds of years, e.g., Lamech 777 years in total.

Before we arrive at our reading, the beginning of Chapter 6 has the cryptic expressions: “sons of God” and “Nephilim.” The text, apparently alluding to an old legend, shares a common ancient view that the heavenly world was populated by a multitude of beings, some of whom were wicked and rebellious. It is incorporated here, not only in order to account for the prehistoric giants, whom the Israelites called the Nephilim, but also to introduce the story of the flood with a moral orientation—the constantly increasing wickedness of humanity. This increasing wickedness leads God to reduce the human life span imposed on the first couple. As the ages in the preceding genealogy show, life spans had been exceptionally long in the early period, but God further reduces them to something near the ordinary life span. (NAB, note on Gen 6:1-14)

Despite God’s second thoughts and regrets, He remains true to his commitment to save humanity. There are consequences to our choices, but there is always a life line (or an ark!) to rescue us.

It seems to me, here on the doorstep of Lent, just as Scripture reminds us of the trajectory of evil in the world, we are called to review the trajectory of our lives. Are we like Lamech? Probably not – at least nt in vengeance. But perhaps gossip or some other small “white lie.”  Evil has a way of growing. We are called to be attentive to our lives before the rains come and our lives are shortened.

Image credit: , Jamie Galloway, Nephilim

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