The readings for our Lenten journey this Sunday help us to look back to the beginnings of God's mercy in the call and commission of Moses, then to the unfaithfulness of the Israelites wandering in the desert and finally to a call to repentance by Jesus and a reminder of God's patience to give us yet another season to repent.
In our first reading (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15), God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and commissioned him to go to the Israelites and lead them to freedom. For the first time in recorded Scripture, God identified himself by his proper name, "I AM who AM." Translated in Hebrew, this is "Yahweh". This name was so sacred, it was usually substituted with "YHWH", or "Elohim" (God) or "Adonai" (Lord).
Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.”
When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, “ he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the LORD said, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”
In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12), St. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth how the Israelite's experience in the Exodus prefigured their own salvation in Christ. Their "ancestors" ate and drank of the spiritual food and drink in the desert, prefiguring the Christ who nourishes us in his body and blood. However the Israelites rebelled and most were struck down. We should heed their example as a warning and "take care not to fall."
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.
These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.
In our Gospel reading,(Luke 13:1-9) we hear a two-part message by Jesus. First, a reminder that we all must repent or perish. Secondly, our God is a patient God, giving us yet another opportunity to repent. Just as in the parable of the barren fig tree, the owner waited one more season to see if it would bear fruit before he would cut it down.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"
And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, '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. If not you can cut it down.'"
The owner of the barren fig tree is God; the gardener is Jesus; the fig tree is us. This is our time to repent; to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. This is our time to reflect on the sins of our past and follow Christ's example of love, compassion and faithfulness.
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