HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C (FEB 28)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
You may have noticed a pattern this Lent in the readings. Last week we had the preparatory story of Abram’s first encounter with God and today we have Moses’. Next week we will jump to the prophet Joshua. It is as though we are taking a short memory tour through the Old Testament to better understand the Passion of Jesus in the context of Hebrew history. Similarly, this ties in with the Gospel reading today because Jesus is warning the Jewish people that unless they remember and repent, they will not enter the kingdom.
The Hebrew people were chosen by God to be the root from which would come the Savior of the world. And that root image is very appropriate today because Jesus talks about a fig tree that is not doing very well, using a similar imagery. The Hebrew people, as we saw last week, were, through the covenant of God with Abram, promised a new land, a new kingdom. Abram becomes Abraham, the father of this chosen people and through him, they number as the stars of heaven. But the progeny of Abraham often forgot God. Indeed, the story of the Old Testament is the struggle to have the people remember who they were, what their heritage was, and what they owe to God. They often failed, and had to start again.
In today’s reading from Exodus, we get what might be called the second great chapter in the Hebrew story. Moses is chosen by God to be sent to the people of Israel. God comes in a most dramatic way – we saw shining faces last week as a result of God’s light. Today we see the same great light in the form of a burning bush. God has seen the sufferings of his people and wants to help. He also wants to complete his promise to them – the covenant which involves a Promised Land. We wonder why God chose men like Abram and Moses? Did he see the remarkableness of them even though they were just poor farmers? Or was it that they had a strong faith and belief in the one true in God. I think the latter.
When Moses was speaking to God he asked God’s name. Some of us may think that odd, but to name a thing is to know that person and in some way to have power over that person. Isn’t that one of the first things we do when we meet someone- introduce ourselves. And if a person doesn’t introduce themselves, we usually ask their name. I once read that Confucius said that the beginning of wisdom was to call things by their proper name. And Moses was looking for that wisdom.
But God doesn’t really give him a name, but more a state of being. There can be so much taken from the words God uses to name himself: “I am who I am.” It can also be translated as it is in English translation Hebrew Scripture “I will be who I will be”. While it is almost a riddle, there is a certain sense of it – for God is “existence”. Nothing exists without him. At the same time, it is not a name that can give power to anyone, for God wields all the power.
God’s other names in the Old Testament are never spoken by the Hebrews, and they are usually some form of Lord. The Hebrews often speak of God’s name without naming. In the psalm today, for example, we hear: “All that is within me, bless his holy name.”
In the second reading and the Gospel today both Paul and Jesus want us to remember. Without remembrance, without tradition, we will move away from the important things promised us and be too influenced by the world around us. For Paul, “Those things happened to [the Hebrews] to serve as an example” to us, and that is why we must remember the promises, the failures and the steadfast love that God had for us despite those failures.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us a parable of a fig tree. This section of St. Luke only appears in his Gospel, so we know that it is very thematic and explains why Luke wrote his Gospel. More than the other writers Luke feels that his Gospel is a story of repentance and forgiveness of sin. Even though Luke has just told us that God will judge us, he shows how God is patient and offers amp opportunity for us to change our ways and repent. If we do, we will be forgiven.
Just before he tells the parable we learn of two events or tragedies that happened. One was an act of human malevolence, the other an act of nature – both leading to the deaths of many people. The question posed is why does such tragedy happen to apparently good people, an ageless question which may never be adequately answered for us on earth. The crowd listening to Jesus asked if these people had sinned and brought about heir own tragedy as punishment. We should understand that this is not the case since Jesus always blessed the poor, the sick, the maimed, the prisoner. So Jesus does not impute sinfulness to these people. Jesus here does not get involved in this question with a direct answer. He states that the real point is that all people must learn to be penitent and trust in God’s saving grace, but that tragedy or happiness cannot be linked to this.
The parable of the fig tree follows. On the surface, it is an attempt to show how the Hebrew people were like that fig tree. They had stopped producing. The owner of the fig tree wanted to cut it down, but the gardener asked for patience. Here perhaps we can see the gardener as one of God’s prophets pleading for time for his people to repent. God relents and gives the time. So once again, God is judge, but God shows patience ad mercy. The point, however, is still that we must repent.
And so, that is what Lent is about each year. It jogs our memory. It forces us to look at our own lives, to see if we have been true to the covenant God has made with us, to see if we have been grateful for the redemptive grace we are given, and if not, to repent. So here we are in the third week of Lent, remembering the Hebrew story, remembering the Christ story and looking at our own lives. There is still time. God is patient with us. Let us change our ways and be ready to rise with Jesus again on that glorious Easter which is just a few weeks away.
And this is the Good News I offer you today in patience and hope. God bless.