FIRST READING Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” God said, “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,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the Lord said, “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 from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”
SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. 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.
GOSPEL Luke 13:1-9
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.’”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
An easy and ready comparison can be made between the Biblical concept of repentance and the vernacular word: hard-headed. We have all experienced those people in our lives who stubbornly cling to mistaken or flawed thinking that catastrophically led to disagreeable outcomes. Perhaps you have said similar sentiments (or heard them lovingly delivered)? “Do I have to tell you again not to run with scissors?” “We’re obviously lost, could you please, please pull over at the next gas station and ask for directions?” “How many times will we have to replace the lawnmower until you understand the importance of changing and checking the oil regularly?” At the foundation of these inquiries is a sincere desire, on the part of the questioner, to implore a change in the person questioned. In short, “Repent!”
Jesus employs very strong words in the Gospel today. We are called to repentance. We must break free from our slavery to sins and seek to do good. Jesus is very clear with us: if we do no repent, we shall perish.
The Book of Exodus recounts for us the encounter of Moses with the living God. As part of His plan of salvation, God called forth a leader and mediator for his people–Moses–who carried God’s message to the Israelites and led his people out of their enslavement in Egypt. Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush was a pivotal moment in salvation history. Although resistant at first, Moses embraced the will of God and his role in leading his people out of Egypt. This is a God who seeks us out, a God who reveals Himself, a God who asks us to live for Him and a God who is always faithful in His relationship with us, even when He asks difficult things of us. Sometimes we do not want to change our lives, to repent, and invariably we need reminders.
The First Letter to the Corinthians unfolds an abbreviated, cautionary narrative from Exodus. After being liberated from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites spent forty years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. During that time, they violated God’s covenant through idolatry and doubts against God’s providence. Yet, God remained faithful to them when they were unfaithful to Him. Saint Paul wants us to stay faithful, not to be capricious with God. At no time should we take God’s love and bounty for granted, as though we have won salvation and all its rewards and we no longer have any work to do. No. Rather, we must strive every day to live faithfully God’s Law while we trust in God’s love for us. No matter what the circumstances, we must be convinced of His love and care for us.
Saint Luke’s Gospel records strong words from Jesus; they are words that reflect the tradition of the Old Testament. God loves us intensely and wants our love in return. He wants us to turn away from sin and to turn to Him. The Parable of the Fig Tree is about repentance and mercy. God, in his mercy, gives us ample opportunity to repent and bear fruit. However, if we persist in the refusal of his love, we will indeed perish by our own choice. God does not rejoice in lost souls.
God wants to reclaim our hearts in this time of Lent. When we give our hearts and our whole being to God, good works result in abundance. As monks our sacrifices for Lent in the monastery (yes, we fast, pray, and stint on material things, too!) are less about us, but more about sowing seeds and bearing good fruit for the glory of His kingdom.
My sisters and brothers, may this time of Lent draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s presence in our world and in our personal lives. May we open our hearts to Him and seek Him with our whole heart and all our being. May this Lent be a time of repentance and love for us.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB