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3rd Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Repent and prepare the way of the Lord!  While we may recall these words as the cry of  John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Christ, we should not forget that these words have followed us since the dawn of creation all the way down to this very day.  God’s mercy is there waiting for all, but have we answered the call?

Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 9
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

Our readings during this Lent have reminded us of our Covenant relationship with God… answering God’s call to be his people.  Last week we heard the story of Abram, and this week we witness God’s call to the next great patriarch… Moses.  At this point in our narrative Moses has fled Egypt, and has been living in the land of Midian.  While tending the flock, Moses is drawn up the mountain of God by the burning bush.  There God makes himself known to Moses, and directs him to go to the Israelites held captive in Egypt.  This not only is a story of calling, but it is the defining act of mercy (freeing his people from slavery in Egypt) that demonstrates God’s love and commitment to those who follow him.  This is echoed in our Psalm as we sing, “the Lord is kind and merciful.”

Our second reading is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Using the Exodus story as an example, Paul is reminding the people of Corinth (and us) that we must remain diligent in our quest to follow Christ.  The journey of the Israelites in the Exodus was not without its troubles… times when the people didn’t trust in God, and the resulting chaos that resulted from that lack of trust.  Paul tells us that these events were written down as an example for us.  When our faith waivers, when we grumble against God, we face death and destruction.  We must take care not to fall.

This takes us to our Gospel from Luke.  Here some people have been telling Jesus about a group of Galileans who were slaughtered on the order of Pontius Pilate.  Their death was considered very dishonorable.  With this tragedy, and that of another recent tragedy (the collapse of a tower in Siloam), the people are upset.  When bad things happen, they think, it must be because they (or their family) had sinned against God.  First, Jesus puts them in their place by asking if the sin of those who were killed were any worse than anyone else (the implied answer, of course, is “no”).  Jesus then continues… while their sins were not any worse than anyone else’s, we all need to repent, least we all perish.  Jesus then gives us the Parable of the Fig Tree.  A person who had a fig tree complained to his gardener about how his tree has not produced any fruit for the past three years.  He orders the gardener to cut it down, because it’s clearly a wasting precious resources.  The gardener asks him to give it one more year.  He will cultivate it and care for it in the hopes his efforts will bear fruit, and if after that he is not successful, he will cut it down.  The parable is a reminder that God is always willing to give us a second chance… but it is also a reminder that we can’t take his mercy for granted.  We must also bear fruit.  The salvation of our very souls is dependent on our continued diligence to repent and bear fruit.

Final thoughts:
You may have heard that God’s love for us is “unconditional.”  I think we need to be careful with a phrase like that, because it can lead us into the false sense of entitlement.  We have to choose to be in relationship with God.  We have to want it.  God had a covenant with Abram.  God had a covenant with Moses.  Jesus gave us the new covenant.  A covenant relationship reminds me of my first business law class where we learned the basic elements of a contract:  Offer and Acceptance.  God offers his love to us, regardless of who we are or what we have done.  But how do we accept that love?  This is where the “performance clause” of our contract comes into play.  By our choosing to love God in return, we choose to form our actions in a similar manner.  As Jesus taught us:  Love God, and love your neighbor.  To “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  While God’s offer of love is unconditional, our response does have conditions.  And every now and then, as with our readings today, we need to review our own performance.  To repent.  To do better.  We are blessed with a God who believes in second chances, but as Jesus warns in our Gospel, we can’t be complacent..  That’s what Lent is all about… a chance to cultivate our fig tree so that it will bear fruit.


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