19 March 2022

'Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C


Burning Bush
Sébastien Bourdon [Wikipedia; author]

When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:4-5; First Reading). 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Luke 13:1-9 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vine dresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig round it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

The Gospel in Filipino Sign Language

About 40 years ago  a friend brought me to visit a widow in her 80s in Long Island, New York. I was spending a month working in a parish near where she lived. I remember clearly that the woman, whom I never met again, was feisty and we had lively discussions on a number of matters, expressing different views but with good humour and respect.

But what I remember most clearly was that when I put something on top of her Bible on the sideboard she very gently but very clearly and firmly pointed out to me that that book was God's word and should be treated with the greatest respect. For the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

It was the same summer, 1982 if I remember correctly, when a fire broke out in a synagogue in Boston. It held precious copies of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament), including the Book of Exodus from which today's First Reading is taken, and the rabbi wanted to save them. But the firefighters would not allow him to go inside because it was too dangerous. However, the Catholic chaplain of the fire department was there and insisted on going in. He was able to save these precious copies of God's word.

Both of these incidents, one personal the other public, reminded me of the respect we owe to copies of the Bible and to the lectionaries we use at Mass for the reading of God's word. Above all, we are called to respect and to take to heart the Word that these books contain.I felt chastened by the quiet reprimand of the elderly woman in Long Island and a great sense of pride and gratitude for what my brother priest in Boston had done. He risked his life to save precious copies of God's word.

In today's First Reading God reveals to Moses Who He is: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

God also shows himself to be a God who hears and loves his people: Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them . . . 

The Responsorial Psalm reveals  a God who crowns you with love and compassion. The New English Bible, which is not used in any of our lectionaries, translates that line beautifully this way: God surrounds me with constant love, with tender affection.

A Fig Tree

We see the compassion of God in the parable of the fig tree that Jesus tells in today's gospel. The owner wants to cut it down as it hasn't given fruit for three years. But the vine-dresser intervenes: ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig round it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

This is an open-ended parable that invites us, with God's grace, to help bring about a life-giving conclusion to the story. Jesus told this story just after saying, No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Jesus is not a cuddly teddy bear but One preparing to die for us on the Cross. He is the Word of God who became Man to reveal God's love for us to the greatest extent possible.

Lent is a time of repentance, a time of fasting, a time to go to confession, a time for priests to make it possible for the people they serve to do that. We priests are like the vine dresser in the parable, pleading with God on behalf of the people we serve, as Moses did. One of his greatest traits of was how often he prayed for his people while at the same time expressing his frustration with them for not following God's law.

With the free will that God has given us comes responsibility: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

This hard saying of Jesus is also an expression of the word of God from the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.

Communion Antiphon Cf Ps 83 [84]:4-5

The sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her young: by your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, for ever singing your praise.

Traditional Latin Mass

Third Sunday in Lent

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 03-20-2022 if necessary).

Epistle: Ephesians 3:1-9.  Gospel: Luke 11:14-28.

St Paul Writing his Epistles
Valentin de Boulogne [Wikipedia]

1 comment:

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dear Father Seán,
May God's Power tell Satan's people: 'Do not come near my people of the Ukraine...!'