3rd Sunday of Lent
Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9
The first reading recounts the first time the God of Israel appeared to Moses while he was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Keeping watch by night, he learned to see the grandeur of God in all of creation. In his search, he found meekness and found contentment.
The whole strong clamor of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinctly. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
God takes delight in catching the attention of a person who loves nature and discovers in it the handiwork of God. The shepherd of the flock finds himself tended by the Shepherd of Israel. There, in that open plain, Moses found the still-point where he was in communion with God. Keeping watch over the flock, Moses finds himself in the presence of the Shepherd of Israel. To his great surprise, Moses saw a bush burning but the flame did not consume it. The flame is an emblem of the fire of divine love that purifies and sanctifies the people of God. Those who desire to enter into communion with the Living God must be willing to be consumed by the Fire of divine love (CF. Heb.12:29). Like Moses, who removed his shoes in the presence of the Holy One, we, who are the sheep of His flock, should draw near to the heart of God in a spirit of awe and devotion. During these sacred days of lent, we should avoid everything that is an offense to the divine majesty. The more we experience God and His grace, the more we should ascend the heights to draw close to His heart.
Like a deer panting after water, all of creation is longing for the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. God, in His mercy and loving-kindness, emptied himself so that we might be filled with His loving kindness. This gift, freely given must be freely received. The Living Word took flesh of the ever-virgin Mary and became our companion on the Way so that we might be reconciled with the Father. It is because God has first loved us that we have been made partakers of the Banquet of Love. It is important that we never forget that we are invited guests at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The only fitting response for such an invitation is Thanks. The Holy One of Israel knows the frailty of our bodies and the folly of our souls and chooses to call us His children. In Christ, we find the cornerstone of our faith and the source of living water that refreshes our souls throughout our pilgrimage on earth. The parable of the fig tree reminds us that the Master of the harvest is giving us all the graces we need to produce a rich harvest, but we need to cooperate with his gifts.
Saint Peter took up this theme in his second epistle: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, but he wants everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). In God’s way of thinking, what human beings consider slackness is actually long-suffering. The God of eternity gives us all the time we need to grow in knowledge and holiness. Lent is about surrendering to the love and care that God extends to us. But God’s mercy comes with a caution that can stir us to do what needs to be done — before it is too late. While we are granted a period of reprieve, there will, indeed, be a day of reckoning. We are being given a time of grace. We have space to grow; mature spiritually; reshape our lives; serve the Lord; remove the obstacles, big or small, between us and God; between us and others. It might be good to ponder these words taken from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
The divine gardener reminds us not to lose hope that we can produce a rich harvest. He will spade around and apply needed fertilizer but we have to cooperate with his grace. Lent is not about our efforts to win God’s approval. Rather, it is about coming to the awareness that we are loved by God and desired by Him. “No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ”(St. Leo the Great). If we desire to change we have help. Jesus, the Gardener, will nurture in us fruits of conversion and discipleship. He is the Gardener who gives himself as food and drink so that we can be converted. I will close with an excerpt from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Barnfloor and winepress.”
Thou who on Sin’s wages starvest,
Behold we have the Joy of Harvest:
For us was gathered the First-fruits,
For us was lifted from the roots,
Sheaved in cruel bands, bruised sore,
Scourged upon the threshing-floor,
Where the upper millstone roofed His Head,
At morn we found the Heavenly Bread;
And on a thousand altars laid,
Christ our Sacrifice is made.