FIRST READING            Exodus 3:1-8a, 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                  1 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.’”

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Jesus speaks very strong words in the Gospel today.  We are called to repentance.  We must turn away from our sins and seek to do good.  Jesus is very clear with us:  if we do no repent, we shall perish.  Today, in many cultures, people do not want to hear such a strong message.  On the other hand, we cannot preach Jesus and change his message to us.

Let us look at the first two readings and then return to the Gospel.  The first reading today is from the Book of Exodus.  It recounts for us the encounter of Moses with the living God.  Moses is not expecting to meet God.  It is God who chooses Moses for a special role among the people.  Moses has to come to know God little by little.  It is through Moses that we come to know God as well.  This is a God who seeks us out, a God who reveals Himself, a God who asks us to live for Him and a God who is always faithful in His relationship with us, even when He asks difficult things of us.

The second reading is from the First Letter to the Corinthians.  Again we hear about Moses and our ancestors in the faith.  God called them all but was not always pleased with them.  Yet God remained faithful to them when they were unfaithful to Him.  Saint Paul wants us to be faithful, not to play games with God.  There should be no time when we take God for granted, as though we have won salvation and no longer have any work to do.  No.  Rather we must strive every day to be faithful to God even as we trust in God’s love for us.

When we return to the Gospel today, from Saint Luke, we can hear the strong words of Jesus again, realizing now that they reflect fully the tradition of the Old Testament.  God loves us intensely and wants our love in return.  God does not want us to play games with His love, even though God accepts us as sinner.  God wants us to repent of all that causes problems in our relationship with Him.

Why?  Because God wants our hearts in this time of Lent.  God is not interested in the good works we do so much as in our giving our hearts and our whole being to Him.  When we give our hearts and our whole being to God, good works result in abundance.  But if we strive to do things for God without giving our heart and our whole being, then we are only playing games with God.

My sisters and brothers, may this time of Lent draw us deep into the mystery of God’s presence in our world and in our personal lives.  May we open our hearts to Him and seek Him with our whole heart and all our being.  May this Lent be a time of repentance and love for us.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip