Reflection for Sunday – March 20, 2022
Readings: Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6.10-12; Luke 13:1-9
Preacher: Dierdre McKiernan Hetzler
In our first reading, Moses’ encounter with a burning bush becomes a life-changing event. The God of this bush is a compassionate God. Having heard the Israelites’ cries of complaint, God is ready to rescue them. And God reveals a closeness to God’s people: “I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them…”
Ah, but this is also a God who commissions others to participate in achieving God’s plans. A God who has a habit of choosing to work through the most inauspicious people and circumstances.When God appeared to him, Moses was a runaway criminal. A refugee who had to depend on an in-law for a job as a lowly shepherd. And who, in verses left out of today’s reading, more or less says to God, “What? Are you crazy? I think you have the wrong person for this mission!” Five times Moses objected. In a last ditch effort, he says “Well, then, whom should I say sent me?”
In reply, God says, “I am who am.” And reassures Moses that God will be with him in his mission. Because God watches over God’s people. Listens to their cries to the point of suffering with them. And will always be there for them. Jesus reiterates that promise when he commissions the disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go, make disciples of all nations, and I will be with you until the end of time.”
In an apparent contrast, the Jesus we meet in today’s gospel appears stern—with a strong warning about repentance. But wait, there’s more.
Tragedies arrest our attention, don’t they? Jesus uses stories of two horrific tragedies to do that today. They suggest that tragedy and hardship come so suddenly that they often cut short our opportunities to live lives inclined toward God. My mother’s version of this lesson was her admonition: “Always travel with your bags packed, because you never know the hour or the moment.” Life’s fragility demands urgency. Hence, Jesus’ urgent call to repentance.
The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which refers to a new way of seeing things. To adopting a different perspective. A new consciousness. One increasingly aligned with Jesus’ life and values. Repentance offers an implicit promise of salvation. The call to repentance shows it is not too late for Jesus’ listeners. Or for us.
In fact, the Christian outlook on repentance arcs toward joy. Consider the tender compassion and care God expresses in the conversation with Moses. And how the gardener in the fig tree parable personifies the patience and love of our God. Where are we invited to reflect these attributes of God?
Where are we to be gardeners, patiently nurturing and supporting others on our mutual journey? Take, for example, grandparents who take their grandchildren under their wing. Caring for them in all sorts of ways. From sharing faith, guiding and supporting them, to actually raising them.
Where are we called to be agents of God’s purposes to bring forth the reign of God in our world? To witness to God’s tender love and compassion. What unexpected mission might be ours? I think of the many volunteers working with migrants at the border. Settling refugees from Afghanistan or Ukraine. Volunteering with the Innocence Project, seeking justice for those wrongfully convicted.
Whether as a “gardener of people” or as agents of God’s purposes, we need to sort out God’s particular call to us, right? And we need to understand the what and how of people’s suffering, don’t we? We need to feel their pain. And to know how desperately they – and we all – need healing to fulfill our God-given potential.
What might need to change in our lives this Lent?
Our God loves us unconditionally right where we are. Yet calls us all to conversion. Conversion is a life-long process. But Jesus does not leave us unaided! We are promised his presence in prayer. And Sacraments. And in a faith community centered on the Jesus of the Gospels. At the Eucharist we pray, “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
God is a God of second chances for those willing to repent. Our judgment will take place under the watchful eyes of a redeemer whose purpose, like the gardener in the fig tree parable, is to save rather than to condemn.