3rd Sunday in Lent
The Book of Exodus provides the first reading. It recalls the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush. Moses is reported as tending his father-in-law’s flock. Suddenly an angel appeared and led Moses to a bush. The bush, although on fire, did not burn.
Then God spoke, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The message is simple. God always is with the people, aware of their plight. He always was, and is, merciful, sending leaders such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to bring hope, relief and guidance.
Moses in his turn was God’s instrument of this relief, sent to lead the people out of Egypt.
God, although present, is sublime, almighty and above all. Moses could stand to look upon God’s face. Knowing his own limitations, Moses removed his footware to show respect even for the ground upon which he met God.
Finally, God revealed the divine name to Moses, a supreme revelation. In Hebrew tradition, names contained the very being of the person. To know a person’s name was to have access to the person’s identity.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the second reading. Corinth’s Christian community challenged Paul since the city was a reservoir of excesses and moral outrages, and Christians were vulnerable.
Nevertheless, Christians had to follow the Gospels despite the pressures to do otherwise. Paul warned them, encouraged them, taught them and sought to inspire them. This reading is typical of his effort in these regards.
He gave the history of God’s people. Without God’s guidance, without the nourishment provided by God, people will die. What they had from earthly resources will not protect or sustain them. St. Paul tells his readers, the Corinthian Christians, that God alone is the source of true life.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading, giving one of the rare glimpses of Pontius Pilate in the Gospels outside the Passion Narratives themselves. It is not complimentary to him. Pilate, who so casually sentenced Jesus to an agonizing death, was ruthless and unmerciful. He also had no regard for the God of Israel, or for the religion of the people who worshipped the God of Israel. (An ancient tradition is that he was recalled to Rome because of his brutality, a brutality too vicious even by accepted standards of Roman imperial governance.)
Jesus said that the victims of Pilate’s heartlessness did not deserve what they received. Jesus referred then to an accidental disaster, when 18 people were killed by a falling tower in Siloam. He noted that they too were innocent.
Regardless, all those to whom Jesus referred in the end died, innocent or not, unable to control evil decisions or evil persons or the mishaps of nature or invented things.
Manner of death, however, is unimportant in the end. All people die.
Jesus tells the people to reform, giving the parable of the barren fig tree. The owner wants to destroy the tree, but the vinedresser pleads for another year, for enough time to nourish the tree in the hope that it will bear fruit.
We continue to move through Lent. The Church in these readings is very frank. It tells us that abandoning God reaps a whirlwind of calamity, sweeping into its wake even the innocent. Thus were killed the victims of Pilate’s outrage, as well as those who accidentally died when the tower fell.
Humans inevitably walk into disaster when they rely upon themselves alone. As the first reading said, God alone is the source of truth and wisdom.
In the clear words of Christ in the Gospel, the Church calls us to repent in Lent. Remember the fig tree. God is patient, but one day will be our last on earth. It is up to us.
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