Third Sunday of Lent

March 20, 2022

Sister Rose Ann Barmann, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: Exodus 3:1-8a 13-15; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9 

Our Word of God for this Third Sunday of Lent reveals to us what God is like by means of a conversation between Moses and Yahweh. We hear, “The Lord is kind and merciful.” This is what we sing and proclaim in the responsorial psalm. This is the heartfelt message that our Church wants us to hear and experience from our Creator God today. As daughters and sons of God, we are called to be open and receptive to hear and receive this message. God is love and gazes upon us with kindness and mercy.

Kindness and mercy are the threads that connects God’s Word from Exodus to the Corinthians and to the Gospel reading for today. “I AM who AM.” Paul weaves that message through his writings to the Corinthians. Paul is reprimanding the Corinthians because they are like their ancestors, that although they were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, baptized into Moses and drank the same spiritual drink from the spiritual rock of Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them. They were struck down in the desert because of their hardness of heart.   

In our Sacred Words from Exodus, we learn who God is as we listen in on this conversation between God and Moses who is shepherding his flock. We note that God reveals God’s self in the very ordinary daily task of Moses’ life, tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro. Our God is a “homey” God who reveals Her Divine self in the very routine activities of our lives. It is during a normal human exchange between God and Moses that we learn that God is the foundation of Being… I Am who AM. Simply Profound!!! We recall Jesus’ query to Peter, “But who do you say I AM?” And Peter makes his confession, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus, in the Gospel, sounds angry and threatening, “Repent or you will perish,” he says. The tower at Siloam fell on eighteen people. He curses the fig tree. Jesus sounds like he is on a rampage.

Our loving Jesus whom we know, and love becomes angry, offended and impatient with his people. Sometimes we have those same feelings.

News comes to Jesus that Pilate has murdered several Galilean people. Still worse, Pilate has mixed their blood with that of sacrificed animals. This is a terrible, gruesome story, worthy of denunciation. Is it not like Mr. Putin bombing Ukraine?

Jesus draws a point from it: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?”  By no means! Jesus says, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Jesus is challenging his listeners and us, that they are just like the Galileans who they are criticizing and condemning.  

It seems you don’t have to murder people in order to get punished. You can qualify just by failing to repent!

Why is Jesus so harsh? Is he a truly an angry savior? Was he angry in the same way a lot of people think the God of the Old Testament was? Unforgiving, warlike, furious, demanding an infinite sacrifice to make up for humankind’s sins against a loving God?

On the contrary, when we look at the first reading, we do not find an irate God at all. Instead, we find a tender one, grieving over the troubles of her people. In Exodus, God says to Moses, “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.” God speaks these words miraculously to Moses from the midst of a burning bush that is not consumed by its own flames! He begins to instruct Moses about how to rescue God’s people. With great compassion from the depths of God’s heart, God tells Moses how he will be a liberator of God’s people.  

The Rabbi Jesus, as a storyteller in the second half of our Gospel, helps us to understand this Good News for today. An orchard owner orders his gardener to chop down a sadly unproductive fig tree. But the gardener advises the owner to leave it one more year and see if, with some tending, it will bear fruit. Just give it one more chance.

Who does the heartless orchard owner represent? We always assume that it is God. We half-remember the story in Mathew 21:18-19. “When Jesus is going back to the city one morning, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by road, he went over to it. But found nothing on it except leaves.” Jesus curses the fruitless fig tree. This curse of Jesus is a sign of the judgment that is to come upon Israel that with all their apparent piety, they lack the fruit of good deeds.

Jesus is not the orchard owner but the gardenerasking mercy for the weak and barren fig tree. Our God is kind and merciful. Isn’t this exactly what he is doing when he warns that they will perish if they don’t repent? Isn’t Jesus challenging all of us to turn back to God to avoid annihilation?

There is no reason to fear God since she is infinite and infinitely fierier than the burning bush. But the closer you come to the real heart of God, the more your fear turns to gratitude, love, and praise. You are not annihilated or consumed by the divine fire—you are warmed and gentled by God’s welcoming hearth.

So, what is God’s word asking of me, you, and our Church this Third Sunday of Lent?  I hear God calling me to be kind and non-judgmental, and to give the individuals who hurt me or slight me another chance and to forgive. Let us pray for one another as we move through this Lenten Journey with this Word of God as our guide.   Credits: “Spirituality of Readings” Year C. Jesuit Website. John Foley, SJ.  Mary M. McGlone, CSJ. National Catholic Reporter


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