20 March 2022 – 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C
(1) Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15
God pities his people in Egypt and will free them, through Moses
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Responsorial: Psalm 102: 1-4, 6-8, 11
R./: The Lord is kind and merciful
My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love
and compassion. (R./)
The Lord does deeds of justice,
gives judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
and his deeds to Israel’s sons. (R./)
The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him. (R./)
(2) 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
We must persevere, in order to be saved
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Gospel: Luke 13:1-9
The Lord of the vineyard offers us ample chance to bear fruit
At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Inviting us to think again
Some unnamed people spread the news about the slaughter of some Galileans in the holy precincts of the Temple. The perpetrator has been acting on the orders of Pontius Pilate. They add the horrifying detail that the victims’ blood has been mixed with the blood of animals that were being offered in sacrifice. We don’t know why they brought the news to Jesus. Did they want him to express solidarity with the victims? Or did they want him to explain what sin those victims could have committed to merit such a shameful death? Or why God allowed them to be murdered in the sacred area of the temple?
Instead of a direct answer, Jesus recalled another tragedy that happened in Jerusalem: the death of eighteen people crushed by a falling tower near the pool of Siloam. Then he made two comments about both events. First, that victims were no more sinners than anyone else. And second, that any such tragedy can serve as a warning about the shortness of life. “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did”.
This roundabout answer should make us stop and think. Jesus rejects the popular myth that all misfortunes are divine punishments.. We are not to imagine a stern, punitive God who metes out sickness, accidents, misfortunes, as a response to people’s sins. Then he changes the topic and invites them to examine their own lives. They must listen to God’s call to conversion and to a change of lifestyle.
On our mass-media we often learn of tragic earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. How can we reconcile such tragedies with our belief in divine providence? Jesus suggests that rather than asking how God could let them happen, we should wonder what positive lesson we can learn from then. Rather than ask, “why does God allow this misfortune”, let’s ask, “how can we leave so many human beings to live in misery, so defenceless and ill-provided for?” We won’t find salvation by protesting at God or denying his existence, but by doing our bit to mitigate suffering in our world. Then, maybe, our heightened awareness of the fragility of life will bring us closer to God.
Learn from the gardener
Death stares out at us from our newspapers and TV screens. Apart from natural deaths, somewhere in the world there’s always some natural calamity, a terrorist attack, ethnic brutalities, murder for gain, epidemics, tsunamis, earthquake or famine. Death does not predict its calendar, but is a certain fate for us all. People who were expected to live to old age die suddenly while others whose childhood was marked by illness often survive to a remarkable age.
Our reactions to other people’s death can be either a philosophical acceptance like, “Maybe it was his/her time to go” or a more shocked sense of loss: “It should not have happened so soon!” When people told Jesus how some Galileans died, victims of Pilate’s anger, they wondered how God could have let this happen; but instead of explaining it, Jesus asks “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” He goes on to warn about the need of repentance.. “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” and illustrates this with the parable of the fruitless tree.
Real repentance is a reflection about whatever is unfruitful in our lifestyle. Jesus’ words “Repent or you will perish” remind us of what Socrates said at his trial, after he had opted for death rather than exile: “The un-examined life is not worth living.” The parable of the fruitless fig tree is thought-provoking. It is not about doing wrong but about failure to do what is positively right. The fig tree that bore no fruit is like a Christian who attempts no good work and lives a purely selfish life.
Francis of Assisi once invited a young friar to go with him into town to preach. Francis and the young friar spent all day walking through the streets and then came home. When the day’s journey was done, the young friar was disappointed and asked “Weren’t we supposed to preach today?” Francis replied, “Son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behaviour was noted. It is of no use walking anywhere to preach unless we preach wherever as we walk!” He summed up his idea in these words “Preach the Gospel everywhere, and if necessary, use words.” To him witnessing to Jesus wasn’t merely quoting some words out of the Bible from time to time but one who lives by the word of God each day.
The gardener in the Gospel asked the owner of the vineyard to give the barren fig tree another chance to produce fruit. He promised to dig around it and manure it, to give it one last chance to prove itself. It suggests that we too need to nurture our faith and commit ourselves to being helpful to the lives of others. Are we nurturing our faith and trying to love, so as to bear the kind of fruit God wants from us?