Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 24)

Lent is a time to remember, to reflect and to repent. We remember God’s saving activity in life. We reflect on that saving activity in our lives and we turn back to him who loves us.

The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy comes from the Book of Exodus. “I know well what they are suffering,” the Lord says to Moses. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. At this point Moses is with his father-in-law Jethro on the Sinai peninsula.

While tending the flock he sees a bush burning without being consumed. He goes over to see this incredible sight. As he approaches the Lord calls him by name. “Moses! Moses!” Moses replies “Here I am.” “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, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

The Lord then tells Moses he will rescue them and lead them to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Moses will be his representative. Moses asks what he should say when the people ask who sent him, the Lord replies that he should say: “I AM sent me to you.” When we hear this reading we remember God’s goodness to Israel.

The Lord who is, who was, and always will be sees the plight of his people and is moved with compassion. We acknowledge this kindness as we celebrate Mass giving thanks for the Lord’s goodness to us. That goodness culminates in the sending of his Son. In the responsorial psalm we acclaim “The Lord is kind and merciful.” As we do so we are reminded of his saving activity in the past and invoke his assistance today.

The journey through Lent affords us the opportunity to remember God’s care for the Israelites in incredible ways. He sees their suffering and raises Moses to deliver them. As we hear the second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we reflect with St. Paul on God’s goodness. Here Paul remembers, reflects and calls us to repentance.

St. Paul recalls God’s deliverance of Israel by leading them through the sea to the safety of Sinai as they journey now toward the Promised Land. While they transverse the desert the Lord provided them with water from the rock and manna from the sky. Yet many of the people turned from the Lord and pretty quickly (remember the golden calf, the grumbling and complaining against the Lord, etc.).

Paul uses this as a reminder to the Corinthians. Paul writes: “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.” He calls them and us to remember the Lord’s faithfulness and his goodness. The Lord acts in his time and remains faithful to his people all the time.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus speaks of God’s patience and mercy. He tells the parable of the fig tree that is not bearing fruit. When he suggests that it should be cut down, the gardener asks for some more time so that with care and nourishment the tree might become fruitful. The gardener is Christ. He is the one who provides the way to grow so that we might bear much fruit. This is what God wants for us. He gives us life and wants us to live it well. Ongoing repentance helps us on that journey. Jesus, before telling the parable, calls the people to such repentance.

In the two examples Jesus cites, he challenges a common understanding that says when calamities happen to people it is because they were great sinners. Rather than looking at other people and judging them as sinners, Jesus calls the hearers to repentance. He says: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

The call here is not to death but to repentance. The people here were looking outside themselves to blame someone for tragic and destructive events. Jesus shifts the question from blame, which will not be satisfied, to repentance — something everyone needs to grow and thrive.

Lent is a time to remember, reflect and repent. We remember God’s saving activity in the past. The saving activity reaches fulfillment in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection which we celebrate at Easter. We reflect on God’s goodness in the past both in the life of Israel, the life of the church and in our lives. We ponder his goodness, faithfulness, compassion and mercy. We consider our response to the gift of life and the gift of his love. Finally, we repent and turn back to him in renewed thanksgiving and praise.