Third Sunday of Lent First Reading: Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15 Responsorial: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12 Gospel Passage: Luke 13:1-9
the repentance and conversion that we seek in the season of Lent begin with an awareness of, and gratitude for, God’s grace. The season itself is a season of grace as we recall God’s love for us and pray that the Lord will transform our words, deeds, and hearts. With today’s readings, we learn that conversion in Lent, or any season of the year, is an ongoing struggle to conform ourselves to God’s will for humanity and for us as individuals. Conversion is not accomplished, it is lived.
In the second reading, Paul addresses the Christians of Corinth with a warning against self satisfaction. He cites the model of Israel’s time in the desert as a lesson for his Christian believers. The Exodus from Egypt and journey through the Sinai to the Promised Land is the process that forms the people of Israel. In their journey, we see all of the glory and struggle of the life of faith. As Paul points out, the desert is a special time of intimacy between Israel and the Lord as she must rely entirely upon the grace of God who provides water and sustenance in the wilderness. But it is also a time of rebellion and grumbling. The people feel the temptation to return to the security of bondage, despair of life in the desert, or try to make God in their own image rather than worshipping the God Who has shaped them.
Paul adapts this Exodus story as a type for the baptismal experience and the Christian faith. The baptized pass through the waters and must struggle through the wilderness. In the desert, we have the rock of Christ Who feeds and sustains us. But the warning of Israel’s story is there as well. We can fall into the trap of thinking that we can stand alone. Paul also reminds the Corinthians of the urgency of the matter. The “end of the ages” has come and the believers must make their choice to depend upon the Lord.
The passage from the Gospel of Luke concerns a different set of temptations. Our faith asserts that God’s will is sovereign and that people exercise free will. These two truths will always exist in tension, but the relationship between the two comes together in the mystery of God’s liberating love. God’s will is that we be free partners in love and therefore we must have a choice in the matter.
Nevertheless, when confronted with the mystery of the relationship between God’s will and ours, there is the temptation to try and “manage” the mystery. We decide that God perceives and acts as we do, and that God’s will must operate within the boundaries of our logic. You can see this at work in the notion that disaster and suffering result from sin. The comfort for us in this otherwise cruel notion is the presumption that we have some control over our destiny. The unspoken bargain goes like this: we do right and God does right by us. In this passage, Jesus dismisses the hubris of our claim on God and our judgment of others. He rejects the notion that we can or even should make logical sense of tragedy and suffering. At the same time, He offer us a stark example of the importance of our choices and actions. Like the fig tree, we have the opportunity to respond to God’s care with concrete results. We are even given more than once chance. But the opportunity is not endless. Decision is required by action or inaction. If the decision is to go our own way then we must face the inevitable consequence – separation from God.
If Lent began with the good news of God’s offer of salvation, then these readings summon us to respond – and to continue responding – with a new way of living. In a sense, the first reading brings us back to the joyful news at the start of the season. In this beautiful encounter between God and Moses, we see God’s responsiveness to human suffering and God’s initiative in setting the events of liberation in motion. And here is the really astonishing part: God speaks of a relationship between the Lord and Creator of the Universe and mere creatures. The relationship offered to Moses and the people began long before with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it is a personal relationship, God has a name and has revealed that Name to Moses. Moses’ response of openness and humility is a good model and starting point for us as we negotiate the sands of our own Lenten Sinai.