Mar. 23, 2019

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, 2019

DIVINE INTERVENTION AND THE CALL TO REPENTANCE

Readings: 1st- Ex. 3:1-8, 13-15; 2nd- 1 Cor. 10:1-6, 10-12; Gospel- Lk. 13:1-9

God always intervenes in human situation. But God wants us to also be part of our salvation story. He wants us to repent and collaborate with him. That’s the theme of today’s readings.

First, we are presented with the ancient story of the burning bush. Moses experiences God on Mount Horeb, sees the bush burning but not consumed. He is excited at the sight and decides to come close. At this point, God reveals to him his divine identity. Moses realizes that God is interested in bringing the Israelites out of their suffering in Egypt. The voice says to Moses, “Come no nearer! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” It is an encounter that has come to define God’s essence till date. On our part, like Moses, there is an expectation from us when we come to God. God is holy, and we must appear before him with a sense of awe and reverence.  

Moses is definitely afraid at this strange encounter. First, the burning bush, then the voice. Scripture says, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” God is aware of Moses’ fear, so he goes on to give him some background information about himself and the affliction of his people in Israel, “Therefore, I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8). This seems like a concrete proof to help Moses connect with this strange mission he is to undertake. Yet, Moses needs further confirmation of the identity of God. For this he speaks out, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘what is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” Then God replies to Moses, “I am who am.” That is the definition of God, and he says, “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations” (Ex. 3:15).

The “I am” is the God who is with us in his Son Jesus Christ. He has come to intervene in our situation because he hears our cry. The gospel shares the story of the Jews who come to Jesus to tell him about the Galileans killed by Pilate. Luke is the only evangelist who carries this story, but it presents us with a picture of God’s mercy and the call to repentance. Jesus reminds his audience that those Galileans are not the worst sinners. Neither are the eighteen people killed at the collapse of the tower of Siloam worse sinners than those who are alive. He emphasizes, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did” (Lk. 13:3-4).

The reality is that humanity is quick to judge people especially when calamity befalls them. Sometimes, we view sick people as worse sinners. Mistakenly, we see victims of natural disasters as sometimes suffering the consequences of their crimes. We often fail to look at ourselves in times of violence that is removed from us. We point fingers at others. Christ tells us today that such is a wrong approach to our relationship with God, “if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.”

Imagine the parable of the barren fig tree that follows. For three years, the fig tree has not borne any fruit. The owner is frustrated with the fig and is about to give up on it. He gives order to have it cut down since it is of no importance. It has been reasonably cultivated and provided with every nourishment that could make it fertile, yet no fruit. It deserves to die. The gardener intervenes, “Sir, leave if for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down” (Lk. 13:9). Thanks to this insightful gardener who knows how to plead for patience for the barren fig tree. He is aware that sometimes it takes years for a tree to bear fruit, he recommends great patience.

This is the image of God’s mercy and patience. God is not interested in hacking us down because of our iniquities. He gives us ample time, not one year, not just two years but numerous opportunities of grace. He nourishes us with his Word. He fertilizes us with his sacraments. We receive the best care from God, yet we derail. God still hears our cry. He is ultimately interested in saving us. As the gardener appeals for the tree and hopes for change, so God watches each of us. God looks into our hearts. He invites us to change and live. He wants us to rely on him for nourishment and support.

Let’s make good use of the Lenten season. Christ says, “if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.” Like Moses, let’s take off our shoes of sin. Take off your shoes of hatred. Take off your shoes of malice. Take off your shoes of anger and fury. Take off your shoes of negative attitude towards your neighbor and your colleague. Take off your shoes of pride and arrogance. Take off your shoes of laziness. Take off your shoes of impurity. Take off your shoes and come to God. He is the “I AM” of your life. He waits for you to repent and come with him to his holy ground.