3rd Sunday of Lent
The Book of Exodus, the source of the first reading, is important because in general it provides an account of the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt, with all the misery that they endured there, to the land promised them by God.
In particular, this reading is important inasmuch as it tells of the event when God spoke to Moses at the burning bush and gave to Moses the Ten Commandments, that became the basis of Judaic, and of Christian morality.
God came as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There was no mistake about identity. 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 entrusts Moses, and the people, with this crucial key to the divine reality.
Critically, throughout the experience remembered as the Exodus, and at this moment, God, always with the people, knew of their plight. He was never unfeeling or vengeful. The commandments were for their good.
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 gives the history of God’s people. 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. 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. This reading gives one of the rare glimpses of Pontius Pilate in the Gospels outside the Passion Narratives. It is not complimentary to him. The Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to 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 then referred to an accidental disaster, when 18 people killed by a falling tower in Siloam. He noted that they too were innocent.
However, everyone mentioned by Jesus in the end died, innocent or not. Death is inevitable, regardless of how it comes. While these people could not control evil decisions of others or mishaps of nature, people can control their own ultimate fate. Jesus warns the audience to reform, lest they 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.
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. Others accidentally die. We cannot control everything.
So, when humans rely upon themselves alone, they may leave themselves open to eternal disaster as well as earthly peril. God only is the source of truth and genuine wisdom. True life means eternal life.
So, using the words of Christ in the Gospel, the Church calls us to repent in Lent. We are like the fig tree. God is patient, but one day will be our last on earth. We can reform. Lent is for this purpose. It is up to us.
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