Scripture Readings: Exodus 3:1-8; 13-15; First Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9
Each year the first two Sunday’s of Lent are linked with specific events in the life of Christ: the temptations he endured in the Judean desert and the Transfiguration on the mountain, as recorded in the Gospels. The third Sunday of Lent, though, is not so much centered on an event in Christ’s life, but is concerned with Jesus’ teaching on the patience, mercy and love of our God. The three reading assigned for this Sunday all touch on the importance of place hope in God, the All-Merciful and Giver-of-life, who is always ready to forgive transgressors.
The first lesson for Mass today recounts the memorable event of Moses before the burning bush at Horeb, the mountain of God. This profound experience of God’s presence elicits such immense awe and even fear, that Moses hid his face. This confirms the notion that God’s majesty is so great that no human being can gaze at it and live. But God is likewise near enough to tell Moses that the time has come for the Israelites to be freed from slavery in Egypt and that Moses would be the chosen instrument for bringing it about.
God assures Moses that he will not be alone, but under God’s provident care and thus should proceed with confidence in God’s saving help. The prophetic vocation of Moses shows clearly God’s love and compassion, especially for the oppressed and downtrodden.
Continuing along the same line of thinking, Jesus uses in his preaching an image for God as a gardener and the challenge of growing plants and trees, which includes weeding out what is not-productive or dead. In the case of the fig tree being described in the Gospel, the chief gardener or owner of the vineyard notices a fruitless tree and orders it to be cut down.
The vinedresser, though, pleads for another year, a further chance for the tree, in the hope that it may indeed bear fruit. The point being made by Jesus is that God is truly patient and merciful, more than willing to give innumerable chances for a change of heart, a deeper union, a fuller communion, with the living God. There comes a point, though, when in fact the human heart may be so far from God that nothing less than God’s all-powerful grace can redirect it. The reality of free will always has to be taken into account, of course, with the reminder that God never forces us to act against our will, but lovingly invites us to share in God’s life.
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage Jesus is teaching his disciples never to let their lives be so out of control or far from God that the turning to God becomes more and more difficult, though never impossible. Our free will is just that: not being forced to choose for God and the ways of the Gospel, but truly free, leaving us with the ability to choose for God and life or seek the way of error and separation from God. That we want to avoid at all costs. It is never too late to turn to God.
Someone has said that we Christians speak much about God but in fact very little to God. In Lent we are being called to speak to God, to be people of prayer, striving for union with our Maker, at all times and everywhere. Our annual observance of Lent, forty days of special prayer, fasting and almsgiving or doing good, is a golden opportunity to meet our God and belong more fully to the One who ultimately satisfies the longings of the human heart.
Today is the acceptable time to return to God and to produce fruit in our life, the time to experience God’s loving mercy and to offer our forgiveness to those who have offended us in the past or are offending us now. This is the acceptable time to be kind-hearted and give others another chance. Christ can more freely enter our lives under such conditions, when we leave ourselves open to true life and love.
When we unite to celebrate the Eucharist in our Church we experience the presence of God in our midst and we thank God for such goodness and patience with us. Salvation history is the story of God’s redeeming mercy, expressed in faithful patience with all people past, present and to come. And “another year” is being offered to us to bear fruit.
The good fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (see Galatians 5:22-23). And the greatest fruit produced is love and forgiveness toward all. We are only able to do this by the grace of God. May God’s grace come abundantly into our lives today and throughout these forty days of Lent.
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” says the prophet Isaiah (40:31). Hope here is to be understood as closely linked to the virtue of waiting, of being patient. In Spanish, for example, the word esperar, means both to wait and to hope. “Saber esperar,” means to know how to hope and to know how to wait.
This is how God acts toward us and we are called to do likewise in our relationship to God and one another. “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,” the prophet Isaiah also wrote (Is 30:15).
The Lord has promised to be at our side in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow, and in this we can take great delight, for our God will never abandon us.
Prior Christian Leisy, OSB
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
Abiquiu, New Mexico