3rd Sunday of Lent
In the first reading, from the Book of Exodus, Moses encounters God. Moses was tending his father-in-law’s flock when 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. His identity was clear.
God, always with the people, knew of their plight. He was intervening in the situation to give the people relief. As events unfolded, Moses was the instrument of this relief by leading the people out of Egypt.
The reading reveals intimacy, immediacy, in God’s relationship with the people. He is almighty and above all. Moses cannot stand to look upon God’s face. Moses, by removing his footware, shows respect even for the ground upon which he meets God. Yet, God speaks the divine name to Moses. It was a supreme revelation. In the Hebrew tradition, names carried the very being of the person. To know a person’s name was to be given access to the person’s identity. God freely spoke this name.
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. Not surprisingly, Paul warned the Corinthians of the temptations surrounding them, bombarding them. He encouraged them, taught them and sought to inspire them.
Recalling the history of God’s people, Paul insists that without God’s guidance, without the nourishment provided by God, the people will die. What they had from earthly resources will not protect or sustain them. With God, they will live and live forever.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. This reading gives one of the rare glimpses of Pontius Pilate in the Gospels outside the Passion Narratives. It is hardly complimentary to him. The Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to death was ruthless and unmerciful. (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.) He had no regard for the God of Israel, or for the religion of the people who worshipped the God of Israel.
Jesus said that the victims of Pilate’s impetuous cruelty 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.
However, all those to whom Jesus referred in the end died, innocent or not. They could not control evil decisions of others or mishaps of nature or invented things. He warns the audience to reform, or else they too will face doom.
Then, Jesus tells 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.
In these Lenten readings, the Church is very frank. As Paul said, abandoning God reaps a whirlwind of calamity, sweeping into its wake even the innocent. We well may be victims of human coldness and human evil, as were the victims of Pilate’s outrage. We may be victims of nature, as were those killed when the tower fell.
It is hard, but humans must face the fact that very often they expose themselves to calamity if they rely upon themselves alone. They cannot always withstand human power as great as Pilate’s. They cannot control nature.
God alone is their sure support. Lovingly, God provides guidance, support and eternal life in Jesus. The question is whether or not we humbly will turn to God and obey God. God will not overwhelm us. He will not entrap us as if we were prey. We must decide.
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