Homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent 2019
Ex3:1-8A, 13-15, 1 COR 10:1-6, 10-12, LK 13:1-9
What would you do if God appeared to you as a burning bush? Would you believe it? Would you try to rationalize this bush that could not be consumed? Would some scientist say, “it’s obviously the result of spontaneous combustion caused by global warming and the reflection of the sun against the mountain…” Or would you try to protect the environment by trying to put put out the fire? All of these are possible reactions to what Moses saw on Mt. Horeb that day. Yet Moses listened to the voice and in awe, hid his face and when he asks God “who shall I tell them sent me, God responds. He tells Moses He is who is (I AM WHO AM), the God of your fathers. Tell them I AM sent you.
I AM. That pretty much says it all. After all, what more fitting name is there for the creator of the universe than I AM? It was as if God was telling Moses that is all you need to know. I AM.
Do we approach God with the same awe as Moses? When we pray do we realize to whom we are speaking. This is not just another person, it is God. It is the uncreated, all-knowing creator of all that is including each and every one of us. Yet many of us tend to lose sight of that sometimes I think. We get casual in the way we interact with God. Think how many times you hear people casually say, “Oh my God,” or “God” as if it were just another word. For instance, have you been at the mall and heard someone say “Oh my God what a sale!” or “Oh my God, look at that dress!” or maybe even someone just say “Oh God!” when they are frustrated? I think it would serve many of us well to re-read that encounter that Moses has with God on Mount Horeb and ask ourselves, “Do I approach God with awe and respect?” Do I realize that when I encounter God at Mass or in the Adoration chapel or even in private prayer, I am on Holy Ground?
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds the Corinthian church that all the things that happened to the Israelites on their journey out of slavery in Egypt was an example for them. It always amazes me how much the Israelites complained. The Israelites grumbled almost from the minute they left. They complained about being chased by the Egyptians. They complained about food, about water, about being in the desert. Yet God traveled with them, God gave them food, God gave them water. God even parted the Red Sea. I don’t know about you but that would have been enough for me. Once I saw the waters part and the people be saved, I would be convinced. I would have told God, “I’m good. No more miracles necessary. I believe.” But not the Israelites. Even with all the miracles they still complained. In fact, God got so frustrated with them that He did not allow them to enter the Promised Land. It was only the next generation that got to go there. Paul cautions that we should heed the warning of those people and take care not to fall away from God. We should never be so confident in our salvation that we get caught up in sin.
The Gospel consists of two parts. In the first, people bring Jesus a report of a massacre of some pilgrims which Pilate authorized. Jesus’ response isn’t what they expect. Instead of condemning Pilate or the Romans for the slaughter, he instead tells the people they too will experience a similar fate unless they repent. It is as if they are trying to get Jesus to take sides in the secular politics of the times and Jesus tries to remind him that He is not that kind of Messiah. His mission is to get sinners to repent. His kingdom is not of this world. He uses another example of a tragedy that happened near the pools at Siloam when a tower collapsed killing eighteen people. He again reminds the people that they too will die if they do not repent. Jesus, is in essence saying, yes bad things will happen but we should be more interested in repentance and saving our souls rather than the worldly events.
We would do well to heed his warnings. Lent is a time of reflection and repentance. We are indeed surrounded by tragedies, whether natural disasters like floods or earthquakes or typhoons or man-made disasters like bombings, mass shootings or war but our focus and main attention should be on our own repentance and our own re-commitment to follow Jesus. After all, there is very little I can do to prevent tragedy in the world but there is a lot I can do to change my life, repent of my sins and try to be more Christ-like. Let us take this time to examine how we can make positive changes in our relationship with Jesus and with those around us.
The second part of the Gospel gives us hope or at least it should. It takes the form of a parable about a fruitless fig tree. For three years the tree has produced no fruit and the land owner wants to chop it down but the vinedresser asks for one last chance to help the tree produce fruit. It is a parable directed at the Jewish leaders of the day but applies to us as well and should indeed fill us with great hope. The land owner is God, the fig tree represents the Pharisees and other leaders and the vinedresser is Jesus. God has been patient with His people and yet the leaders have become egotistic, prideful, and have lost touch with the people they were meant to help. They have not turned the people toward God but rather have abandoned them for all intents and purposes. They have not borne fruit. But Jesus asks His Father for one last chance to help the people turn to Him. He says, let me care for them, heal them, nourish them with my body. Let me water them with my blood. Let me plead with them to come back to you. Then He says, after that, if they still do not bear fruit then you may cut them down.
Do we allow ourselves to be nourished by Jesus? When we receive communion do we allow the Sacrament to help us bear fruit? Do we approach Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament with awe and reverence the way Moses approached the burning bush? Do we allow ourselves to become closer to God as St. Paul cautions us to do? Do we engage in an active prayer life to continue to be nourished? Do we visit Jesus in the Adoration Chapel to just be alone with Him and let Him speak to us?
Those, my brothers and sisters, are the questions we need to ask ourselves, not just during this Lenten season but every day of our lives. Let us not be casual in our relationship with our heavenly Father, let us not forget the example of the Israelites in the desert, let us not get so wrapped up in the everyday tragedies of our secular world that we forget about our eternity, and most of all, let us not be fruitless fig trees. Let us instead resolve today to refocus our efforts to allow God to be the Father He wants to be for us. Let us open our hearts to allow our brother Jesus to enter and finally, let us resolve to be the person that God created us to be from the moment of our conception. Let us bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. Amen