Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C 2022
Readings: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; Pslam 102(103):1-4, 6-8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9
Focusing on our mission and actualising God’s liberating resolve
Dear brothers and sisters,
Life can present us with myriads of complex situations, dilemmas and predicaments for which we have no satisfactory answers. How many times over the past two years have you asked — or heard someone else ask — “Why?” Why is the COVID pandemic lasting so long? Why are so many people dying and suffering needlessly? Then there are natural disasters like the devastating floods that caused so much destruction to the people of Lismore and other parts of the country. Some had barely recovered from the last inundation only a few years earlier. Further afield, there is a war in Ukraine that has displaced 3 million people and counting by the hour. It is déjà vu all over again. Why do tyrants in our world and their aggression against the weak go unchecked?
These and other more personal scenarios can severely test our faith. They can gnaw away the core and foundations of our spiritual life: Does God understand my pain? Is he really involved in all of life’s unpleasant aspects? Does he hear the many cries of agony and anguish? Does God really care?
Scripture today tells us our God is ever close to us in times of suffering; he is intimately involved in our struggles; he is never indifferent to our pain and misery. More importantly, though, he is a God of liberation, freedom and justice. His liberating resolve for, and life-giving promise of the world enlists us, his followers, to work towards the fulfilment of his Kingdom vision. In other words, our consciousness of God’s closeness does not leave us passive and untouched by what is wrong in the world. Rather, it galvanises us for an engaged discipleship that seeks to actualise God’s resolve.
In the first reading, we heard the story of the call of Moses at the burning bush. Moses had run away from Pharaoh’s palace and become a fugitive after being involved in the struggle with the Hebrews in Egypt. He had given up the fight and resigned himself to a shepherd’s life faraway in Jethro. It was there that he experienced an encounter with the God of the oppressed.
“And the Lord said: I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them…” This was a life-changing revelation. Moses met a God who was not oblivious to his people’s pain. This God was resolved to bring about the alternative to oppression and suffering. He did it, however, not without human agency. The encounter became the enlisting of Moses to do the things that God promised. The book of Exodus is the tale of Moses’ courageous life lived in defiance of Pharaoh for the sake of God’s liberating resolve. Indeed, the resolve of God would not amount to much without the risky courage of Moses.
Today, God’s project of liberation awaits our agency and participation. To put it bluntly, God needs our hands and feet. As the poem attributed to St. Teresa of Avila puts it: “Christ has no body but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours”. Just as Moses showed us the way, it is our active discipleship individually and collectively that makes visible God’s alternative vision for the world.
In the Gospel, Jesus is presented with stories of terrible cruelty and tragedy. Pontius Pilate has slaughtered a group of Galilean Jews and mingled their blood with the blood of sacrificial lambs. Meanwhile, the tower of Siloam has collapsed, crushing and killing eighteen people. The reporters accompany these brutal accounts with the question we know so well: Why? Why did these terrible things happen? Why is there so much pain in the world? Why does a good God allow human suffering?
Jesus, however, does not respond to these questions directly. He tells the parable of the fig tree, instead. Through this parable, Jesus puts the onus on the people who think they are more fortunate than those victims of cruelty and tragedy. The fig tree is a metaphor for Israel, which was nurtured with Yahweh’s unwavering devotion and yet found barren. Like the bustling temple courts that Jesus visited during the Passover, it was all smoke and mirrors. Thus, this parable is a warning for the Israelites as well as for believers of all times to focus on the things which matter. For Jesus, it is God’s alternative vision of justice, freedom and dignity that we must embody and put into action.
Brothers and Sisters,
Lent is a time for us not to take that benevolence and compassion for granted. Rather like the fig tree, we must be conscious of our barrenness and the need to yield the expected harvest. May we be ready to allow Jesus the tenderness of our spiritual tree to prune and nourish us with His grace so that we may grow and produce new and abundant fruits. May we focus on being agents of the Kingdom and actualising God’s liberating resolve for humanity and all of creation.
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