Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Scripture Reflections: The Third Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.”
When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, “ he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the LORD said, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. 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.”
Moses said to God, “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?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”
God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.
“This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

Second Reading: First Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.
These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.

Gospel: Luke 13: 1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it 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.’”


This week we have a rather interesting transition. We go from God revealing His name to Moses at the burning bush in the first reading to dire warnings about the wages of sin in the other two. The transition occurs in the second reading, in which Paul notes that the Israelites in the desert had seen the saving works of God, had passed through the Red Sea and been fed by mana, and yet they still sinned and turned away from Him.
            What this collection of passages can be taken to mean, therefore, is that we need to be mindful of just who we are dealing with when we serve God. It isn’t enough simply to assent intellectually to the idea of God, or even to honestly believe in Him; one must also actually live the faith one professes. All the miracles they had witnessed – all the “fertilizing” that God had done – did not make them any more faithful or virtuous.
            That’s an interesting point: a lot of times you’ll hear people wonder why, if God’s real, He doesn’t ‘prove it’ by regular miracles. They underestimate human incredulity. When miracles do happen, even big, public miracles witnessed by hundreds of people, they simply receive skeptical, pseudo-scientific explanations, or, possibly, weird, occult-style interpretations. That is, just because a miracle occurs doesn’t mean it’s going to be taken as a sign from God, whatever other evidence there is.
            But, more importantly, that’s not the point. As we see from the Israelites, miracles may (possibly) make us believe in God, but they don’t make us live our faith. No one was ever saved merely by witnessing a miracle; the Pharisees witnessed many of Jesus’s miracles, but that just made them hate Him all the more. Meanwhile many saints throughout the ages never witnessed a miracle in their lives, so far as we know, yet their faith was immovable. The point isn’t to force someone to intellectually accept the idea of God; the point is to have him live the life of Christ.           
            That’s the lesson Paul draws out of the Israelites; that whatever God has done for us in the past does not give us free-reign to sin or turn away from Him in the future. Just because the gardener planted the fig tree and allowed it to survive this long with nothing to show for it doesn’t mean that it can continue in this way indefinitely.
            The consequences; the ‘time-limit,’ so to speak, is described as death and, I suppose, that’s pretty much exactly what it is. “You know not the day or the hour” when God will demand an accounting from you. At that moment, time will be up and you’ll only have what you’ve already done.
            Typically, this sounds harsh, and no doubt many will protest “but if I had more time I could’ve done this, that, or the other thing.” But the thing is, remember who you’re dealing with. God does just arbitrarily decide you’ve had enough time. He isn’t glaring at his watch wondering when or if you’re going to get around to living your supposed faith. Remember, God knows your inmost heart; He knows all that you’ve done, why you did it, and what you would have done under different circumstances. In short, He’s a completely fair judge. When He cuts off your time, it’s because that is the most appropriate time for you to be cut off. If you are ‘fruitless,’ so to speak, then He knows that you’re never going to produce anything, much like the fig tree.  
            Jesus and Paul’s warning is that we can’t wait around demanding that God prove Himself to our satisfaction before we follow Him. If that’s our attitude, then we will never believe, no matter what He does for us. Instead, we need to realize that we are the ones who need Him, not the other way around, and humbly repent and turn to Him.

Vive Christus Rex!

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