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Third Sunday of Lent C: March 20, 2022

Luke 13: 1-9

Fr. John Tran

In the first reading from Exodus, what was the first thing that Moses notice on the mountain side? The burning bush; but what was so unusual about that. In that dry climate bushes often burst in to flames by spontaneous combustion. People saw this all the time. So what was so special about this particular bush? The fact that while it was burning, it did not burn out; the bush though burning was not consumed or burned up. This was unusual indeed. And because of this Moses was brought into dialogue with God.

What did he learn about God? Two things. He learned that God’s name was “I am who I am” which can be also translated as “I will be who I will be.” God is not just giving a name, like some kind of an identity label; rather God is making a promise. It is as if God is saying, ‘I will always be there for you, no matter what happens.’ God is offering a relationship to Moses and the people of Israel. And the second thing Moses learns? That this God, “I am,” is a God who cares about this people, who has heard their cry of abandonment and suffering. “I AM’ is in love with this people and stands to help them even before they know him or even asks anything of him. This is the best kind of help from God, because we often don’t know what to ask for, or are very misguided in what we ask for. But when Israel enters into this relationship with God, they are also responsible to live as God wishes. The relationship implies commitment.

The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians recounts what God did for Israel with Moses’ guidance. They passed through the Red Sea and “all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. All ate the same spiritual food and...drink.” And yet when they did not trust in God in the desert, God struck some of them down who rejected God’s leadership. Paul says that this is an example for us so that we do not loose trust in God and desire evil things like the Israelites in the desert. God offers a wonderful relationship to us, but we must respond well and not grumble or complain that God is not doing it ‘our way.’ Paul warns us not to become too self-contented or smug. When we are too sure of ourselves, too sure that we are right and know what is best, we are open to missing the point of what God is trying to tell us. Paul says, “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

This brings us to today’s gospel reading from Luke. Jesus first lets us know that just because bad things happen to people, it does not mean that they are evil or sinners, any more than anyone else. The people killed by Pilate or the ones killed by the falling tower are not any worse sinners than anyone else. Accident like this are not due to people’s moral faults. This comes out in the incident of the man born blind when Jesus said that his blindness was not because of his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus points out that God does not seek to punish through things happening to us; rather God wants us to repent of living against his commandments, of living against his love. It is like St. Paul says, “take care not to fall” due to a false sense of righteousness.

The next part of the gospel is about the fig tree that the master wants to cut down because it is not producing fruit. First, it has been given time to do so, three years. But the gardener begs the master to give him one more year to fertilize and nurture the tree. The master agrees. This tells us that God is merciful and does not want us to fail. He will give us time to get our act together. But as Jesus says in verse five, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish.” So even though time is give to us to do better, there is one final moment when we must choose God above all human and material things. This is how Lent is meant to help us. It is a time to let go of things that take over our lives that are not part of our relationship to God; things like too much T.V., too much internet which even if we are going to good sites can consume us; too much food or drink; too many computer games, and so on. We not only become disconnected from God, but we are disconnected from each other.

Lent allows us to slow down and look beyond the things that take us away from God and each other. We don’t want to exhaust the soil so that nothing will grow. We want to be intimately connected to God as Moses was and see the all consuming love of God as a burning bush that is not used up. We want to be strong in faith, but not so sure of ourselves as to miss the point as St. Paul says. We consider some of the following ways that actually can connect us with God. The way we answer the following questions can point us in a God-direction. How can I respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with him in a desert of my own? How can I be present to God and to others? What can I do to lighten the load of some one close to me as well as a stranger who is burdened, and reflect the non-consuming fire of the burning bush, our icon of God?

In the 1980’s Mary Brenner was a divorced mother of seven children who owned a carbon paper manufacturing company in Beverly Hills. She was a friend of all the movie stars, went to their parties, and hobnobbed with celebrities. What turned her around, and made her see life differently? She came across a very touching photograph of the Holocaust. Among the people in the photograph there was a young boy facing a Nazi soldier who was pointing a rifle at him. The child’s eyes showed deep fear and bewilderment. Mary Benner looked at that photograph and suddenly realized that life could never be the same for her. She felt an enormous compassion for all those who were victims of brutality, for those who were the most marginalized. She went to the Bishop of San Diego and said, “I’d like to belong to some kind of a religious order and dedicate myself to those people nobody else seems to care for.” She wound up being called Sister Antonio, and working with the women in the Tijuana Prison, a women’s prison in Mexico. These inmates of the prison were among the most abject, forlorn, and neglected segment of humanity. Sister Antonio became their friend, companion, sister, and mother all in one.

That holocaust picture was Mary Brenner’s burning bush. Today’s first reading speaks of a similar conversion that happened to Moses; a conversion that lead him, and can lead us into dialogue with God. But conversion needs to be on-going as St. Paul hints at. If we get complaisant, we return to being self-centered, not other centered and God centered; then we must “take care lest we fall.” Jesus reminds us in today's gospel concerning the innocent people killed by the falling tower, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” Whatever significant encounter we have with God that leads to dialogue with him is crucial for our continuing conversion which makes our relationship with God secure. It is this rock-solid and living relationship which make our repentance real and allows “what is being brought about in us...come to true completion.”

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