THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
Lent is a time for conversion, a turning toward God and away from anything that separates us from him. Today we hear the story of Moses turning toward a burning bush and finding the living and saving God. In the second reading and the Gospel, there is a call to repentance.
FIRST READING: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15
When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, Moses is a fugitive, having murdered a man in Egypt some years previously. Now he is married and is a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flock. God identifies himself as the God of Moses’ ancestors – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God also tells Moses that he has heard the cry of his suffering people in Egypt and that he intends to free them. Moses asks God his name. God answers: “I Am, Who Am”—a name that defies accurate definition. A possible translation is: I am One who will be with you and for you no matter what.
SECOND READING: 1Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
In this reading, Paul warns the Corinthians (and us) not to equate election (being chosen) with salvation. Their ancestors received many blessings from God, yet most did not follow his ways. Then Paul, in a daring and remarkable act of creative interpretation, reads back into Israel’s history the presence of Christ, the Rock, and sees in the waters of the Red Sea and the desert manna prefigurements of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. While traveling through the desert, the Israelites received many spiritual blessings and yet they fell away from God. Paul reminds the Corinthians that despite the salvation they have received through the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, they must work at continuous conversion lest they perish like their ancestors. Failure to heed God’s call to ongoing conversion will bring dire consequences.
GOSPEL: Luke 13:1-9
Today’s Gospel makes reference to two disasters which the people ask Jesus to comment on. They seem to believe that bad things have befallen the victims because they are sinners, a common view at the time. The absence of bad things in the questioners’ lives implies that they are righteous and not in need of repentance.
Jesus quickly sets his questioners straight on this issue: “Bad things didn’t happen to the victims in either incident because they were unrighteous or bad people. And the absence of bad things in your lives does not mean that you are not in need of repentance. Indeed you are.” Jesus admonishes them: “You are all in need of repentance and if you do not repent, you will perish.” The unrepentant will suffer a fate worse than the victims of the disaster. Jesus uses the two terrible events as a metaphor for the catastrophic ending that awaits those who refuse to repent. Jesus is saying that the big tragedy in life is not being abused or killed accidentally. Rather, true tragedy rests in the hearts of each of us and our choice to reject God’s call to repentance and change of heart.
Jesus exhorts his audience (and us) to not be preoccupied with why bad things happen to people, but rather to be concerned about the condition of their own soul. It is indeed tragic when a person is killed, but for Jesus, there is no tragedy worse than a mind and heart closed to God. No one can afford to be spiritually complacent.
In Jesus’ parable of the Fig Tree, sometimes called “The Parable of the Second Chance,” the owner, noticing that his fig tree is not bearing any fruit, wants to cut it down. The vinedresser asks that it be given one more chance: “Sir, leave it for another year.” The fig tree represents Israel; the Vinedresser represents God. Just as the gardener is patient with the fig tree, so is God patient with sinners. In his youth, Moses kills a man but God does not write him off. God sees immense potential in this former murderer and calls him to carry out a great mission. Church history is full of examples of barren fig trees that, in time, became fruitful, e.g., Paul, Augustine, and Thomas Merton. However, the parable also makes it clear that time may run out on the unrepentant. If people refuse chance after chance to turn their lives around, God will not quit on them, but they will, by deliberate choice, shut themselves out of God’s Kingdom. This parable calls us to be fruitful trees in God’s Vineyard
The Gospel is a clear call to repentance “lest we perish.” What can help you to see what conversion may still be needed in your life?