March 7: Third Sunday of Lent Year C
Readings: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; 1 Cor. 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9
“Sin as tragedy”, “serious warning”, “God's patience” and “second chance” are some of the phrases that seem to capture best the message of this Sunday's readings. The Church continues to help us understand better the meaning of Lent in those phrases. The readings during the Lenten season remind us of sin as tragedy, but tragedy is not sin. Lent sounds a serous warning on the consequences of living in sin. At the same time, Lent often reveals to us a patient God who continuously gives us a second chance. Lent is therefore like a second chance that God in his mercy offers us because God is patient with us. When a calamity struck the Jewish people such as the 400 years of slavery in Egypt, they saw that as being the consequence of their persisting unfaithfulness to God. As we hear from the first reading from Exodus, because God is patient and merciful, God gives the Jewish people a second chance. “I have observed the misery of my people.... Indeed I know their suffering, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians... to the country of the Canaanites..” It is God's initiative to come down and ask Moses to be his servant in delivering the people from slavery into freedom; from sin into faithfulness. God deals with us today in the same way he dealt with the Israelites in the Old Testament when they strayed and became unfaithful. In the second reading, Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians who have become complacent and lax in their Christian practice. He sounds a warning that the Corinthians must not be like their ancestors who walked through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea and fed with manna in the desert, yet they often unfaithful. That warning is ours too. We can be baptized, receive Holy Communion regularly, and yet refuse to go through a real inner conversion, just like Israelites and the Corinthians.
The Gospel is about sin, unfaithfulness and its consequences. The disasters mentioned in the Gospel were seen by the listeners of Jesus as being the result of unrepentant sin and unfaithfulness to God. Jesus tells uses these tragic events, one caused by the butcherous Pilate who sent his soldiers to kill people at the temple; and the other a natural catastrophe of a falling tower to underline the tragedy of sin. But after giving a clear warning on the consequences of sin, Jesus turns around and tells a dramatic parable about a barren fig tree that was not productive for three years. The way the gardener pleads with the owner portrays a patient, loving and compassionate God, who gives us a second chance to repent. “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.” So what is the message? 1) The Lenten season is like a second chance that God offers us through the Church to dig around us and give all the help we need to convert. 2) God patient “is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.” 3) We are therefore invited during this season to experience the mystery of God's patience, love and compassion through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 4) In this sense, Lent can be a “joyful season”, a moment to celebrate the holiness, the joy and the happiness that Jesus shares with us as the loving, patient and compassionate gardener.
©2010 John S Mbinda