21Feb 21 February. Thursday of Week 6

The two great signs of the covenant between God and the human race are the rainbow and the cross. Each of these signs spans the universe…

1st Reading: Genesis 9:1-13

The rainbow: sign of God’s covenant with Noah and the human race

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Responsorial: Psalm 101:16-21, 29, 22-23

Response: From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.

The nations shall fear the name of the Lord
and all the earth’s kings your glory,
when the Lord shall build up Zion again
and appear in all his glory.
Then he will turn to the prayers of the helpless;
he will not despise their prayers. (R./)

Let this be written for ages to come
that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord;
for the Lord leaned down from his sanctuary on high.
He looked down from heaven to the earth
that he might hear the groans of the prisoners
and free those condemned to die. (R./)

The sons of your servants shall dwell untroubled
and their race shall endure before you,
that the name of the Lord may be proclaimed in Zion
and his praise in the heart of Jerusalem,
when peoples and kingdoms are gathered together
to pay their homage to the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:27-33

Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, and is reprimanded

Jesus went with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”


All equally purified of sin

The two great signs of the covenant between God and the human race are the rainbow and the cross. Each of these signs spans the universe, and the covenant grants all men and women an equal status, since in God’s eyes there is no favouritism. All are God’s beloved children.

The rainbow and the cross symbolize God’s goodwill towards the human family. Each has a vertical and a horizontal span, and implies some measure of purification, while offering a promise of joy and completion. The rainbow appears after the rain has cleansed the sky and it heralds bright sunlight. In Genesis the rainbow announces the end of the flood and the divine promise that such a flood will never again sweep the earth. Despite its beauty, the rainbow will not let us forget the devastating force of the flood, which is now seen as a purifying thing, washing the human race clean of its wickedness.

The same applies to the cross. No one can look at a cross, no matter how ornate it may be, without remembering the excruciating death of Jesus. Yet the cross is lifted high on our churches and is worn as the sign and emblem of our victory over sin and despair, for Jesus’ resurrection is the pledge of our own future life. Both cross and rainbow carry a message of universal salvation. They belong to the world and in fact come to our attention first from the secular sphere of life. The cross was the dreaded Roman form of execution; the rainbow is visible to every human eye, whatever the person’s religion may be.

The cross and the rainbow are beautiful and demanding, hopeful and distressing, dark/grim and open/fragile, deeply personal and fully universal. In their light we can truly answer Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that l am?”

Questions that illuminate

Like Socrates, Jesus loved to ask questions about matters of morality and belief. One of his most important questions is found, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question addressed to each of us and each of us is asked to answer that question for ourselves. But it is not a question that just asks for information, whose answer could be found in a book. It is a question that addresses our heart as well as our head. Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question was correct, “you are the Christ.”

Peter’s answer was not the whole truth about Jesus. Jesus went on to identify himself as the Christ who would also be the suffering Son of Man who would be rejected and put to death. This self-revelation of Jesus was not acceptable to Peter. He had still to learn to accept the whole truth about Jesus, to receive Jesus as he was and not as Peter wanted him to be. Peter had a long way to go before he could answer Jesus’ question fully. We are all on that same journey, coming to receive Jesus as he really is and not just as we want him to be or imagine him to be.


Saint Peter Damian, bishop and doctor of the Church

Pietro Damiani (c. 1007-1073) was a reforming theologian, canonist and Benedictine monk from Ravenna, Italy, in the 11th century. Dante places him in a high place in Paradiso as preparing the way for Saint Francis of Assisi.

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