28 February 2016: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 Lk 13:1-9


Lent: God’s call to change

On the third Sunday in Lent, the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider who God is and how God calls us to change.

The first reading, from Exodus, tells how God called Moses. In this story, God also reveals God’s mysterious name and self. All previous biblical stories are schematic–that is, “a thing happened, and this was the result.” Moses’ encounter with God moves slowly, inviting us to deeper engagement and reflection on what the story means. Speaking from the burning bush, God asks Moses to free God’s people enslaved in Egypt. Moses asks God what name he should tell the Hebrews who ask, “Who sent you?” God responds using the Hebrew word “to be” (Heb: hwh or hyh), meaning either “he who is” or “he who causes [something] to exist.” In a subtle way, God’s answer also asks Moses, “Who are you?”

The second reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, warns us not to get too comfortable. Some in the Corinthian ekklesia thought that because they were baptized and attended eucharists, they were saved. Paul recounts the Israelites’ Exodus: even though they “passed through the sea” (like baptism) and they “were fed with spiritual food”–manna–(like the eucharist), some still displeased God and were “struck down.” Paul warns about Corinthian overconfidence in simply being an ekklesia member: salvation requires more than just a membership card, it requires true discipleship.

The gospel begins with two Jerusalem current events: Pilate’s slaughter of Galilean pilgrims and a Siloam tower collapse. Jesus uses these events as warnings to change, and provides a parable to challenge his hearers:

  • The call to metanoia: “Do you think those killed were bigger sinners than others? Not at all! But if you do not repent, you will perish.” The Greek word metanoia, translated in the gospel as “repent,” actually means to change one’s mind; be converted, turn around. Metanoia means more than simply “repent”–it implies an active turning away from evil and turning toward good. Jesus tells us, “Metanoia or perish!”
  • The fruitless fig tree parable: A parable is an open-ended story that challenges the hearer to look into the hidden aspects of the hearer’s own values and own life. This parable has four characters: a fruitless fig tree, its impatient owner, a (more patient) vine-dresser, and the hearer. The hearer is the most important character because he or she evaluates the actions of the other characters. The hearer asks: Is the owner right, honorable, good? Is the gardener right? Is the tree “behaving” correctly? What does the parable mean? At the highest level,the parable is about patience. Patience has its limits; and lack of action has consequences. Based on Jesus’ call to metanoia, we might understand this parable about God’s continuing patience with those who have not yet given evidence of their metanoia (see Lk 3:8). Jesus’ parable tells us, “The time is short!”

As RCIA participants journey toward Easter sacraments, the RCIA process asks them to scrutinize their acts and to measure their lives against Jesus’ life. This is a good practice for all of us. Scripture reveals who God is, but in this revelation, God asks us who we are. Paul warns us that sacraments are not guarantees, but only the beginnings of discipleship. Jesus tells us to pay attention to his call to change our hearts and minds and follow the path he has marked for us. Who are we? Are we disciples in name only? What will it take for us to turn around? Time is short.

—Terence Sherlock

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