The writer of Lent 3’s Exodus story (3:1-15) emphasizes how important it is to turn aside to see. The writer confronts us with the mysterious God and the call to service within our mundane routine. The God reflected here is a sensitive and compassionate God: “I have observed...I have heard...I know...”, but this is also a dynamic and active God: “I have come down to deliver them...to bring them up...to...a land flowing with milk and honey...” In Scripture one’s name isn’t just a tag with which to identify someone. One’s name in Scripture expresses or defines who you are. The divine Name with which God speaks to Moses is both an answer and an evasion. The full impact and meaning of God’s Name for human beings, and our relationship to this God, becomes known only through faithful living: being what we’re to be and doing what we’re to do.
Moses‘ response to God’s wish to send him to Pharaoh on God’s behalf is so typical: “Who...me?!” Moses had reason not to return to Egypt. He’d killed a man there, and someone else, an eye-witness, had seen him do it. But God doesn’t back down. Not only will Moses go and bring God’s people out of Egypt, but he’s also to bring them to this mountain where “you shall serve God”, to Mt. Sinai, also called Horeb: a truly God-awful, dreadful place!
Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians (10:1-13) is a bit hard to follow because of the mixture of references from both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Paul assumes that these Gentile Corinthian Christians hold the common view that they are spiritual descendants of the Israelites; they’re the “new Israel”. This would also be at a time when Paul and they were expecting, as Paul says, “the end of the ages”. Paul uses a method of biblical interpretation called typology. Persons, things or events from the past are applied as types foreshadowing present situations or people which suggest similarity. There are clear references to Christian Baptism and the Eucharist. Just as the Israelites took God’s Presence for granted during their desert wandering, as well as the nourishment God provided in food and drink, so any of us Christians can presume that he/she “has it made” simply because of the sacramental gifts of baptismal new life and the sustenance of Christ’s Body and Blood. Paul issues a solemn warning, both to the Corinthians and to us: 1) against self-sufficiency and overconfidence; and 2) against despair when temptation and suffering inevitably appear in our lives. Both, for Paul, reflect a faith-less attitude. Paul is very clear: “...We must not put Christ to the test...[or] complain... God is faithful...[God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength...[God] will provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Any idolatry, whether it’s of food and drink, money, power, status; or immorality; or putting God to the test, questioning God’s Lordship; or grumbling and incessantly complaining -- all that shows that you and I are unwilling to accept God’s claim: “I AM WHO I AM”.
In the Gospel reading (13:1-9) the evangelist, Luke, refers to some local situations. Apparently Pontius Pilate, who had a reputation for cruel and unjust treatment, had had some Jewish Galileans killed while they were offering sacrifice. The historian Josephus records several other similar incidents attributed to Pilate. There had also been an accident, though there’s no account of it, on the construction site of the Siloam reservoir near Jerusalem, where 18 people were killed: an interesting coincidental reminder which comes on the heels of the recent earthquake catastrophes in both Haiti and Chile. People, for a long time it seems, have often viewed suffering and violent death as the result of one’s sin, as punishment, retribution. TV’s purported “evangelist”, Pat Robertson, is a perfect example. One wonders if he ever read this passage closely before spouting off about the unfortunate people of Haiti! Jesus clearly challenges this kind of arrogant, wrong, and faithless attitude. Our human tragedies aren’t the punishments of some “Ogre” God! To be a human being is to be innately limited. Human beings miscalculate; bad accidents happen to good people because of their limited human condition. People become ill, whether because of their own actions or habits, or because of outside influences and causes; people, because of dysfunctional attitudes and brains and hormones, etc. do terrible things to one another simply because they’re human and not God. There is an ultimate suffering or pain, but only for something far deeper than simply being a human creature. One who intentionally chooses not to change, or to set oneself above God will “perish”. You and I perish when we choose not to be and to do what our Creator bids us to be and do.
Luke then makes a significant point in relating Jesus’ parable about the fig tree: that God who is merciful gives each of us time to be and to do, even after we’ve proven, over and over again, to be uncooperative, unproductive, and faithless. People plant orchards with the expectation that the trees will yield a crop of fruit. Occasionally, one or other of them don’t. Here’s a tree which by now should’ve produced fruit. It’s frustrating when this happens, and it’s logical that the tree’s removal is the proposed solution. It takes up space which could be filled with something that does grow. It costs extra to continue tending it. The tree is likely unsightly. It may even have a blight which could threaten other healthy trees. But the vinedresser, here symbolizing the merciful God, seeks one more year’s grace for the tree.
How many years has God come to you and me “looking for fruit...”?? And what has God found?? God is always eager to tend us a bit longer, but only a fool would bank on having an indefinite time. In God’s mercy God will continue to dig up and around and turn over our false complacency and security and proud reliance on ourselves. God will “put manure on it”: humus, ground, soil, compost, in order to bring us to realize in humility, in the groundedness of reality, who God is and who we are. God will do just about anything to get us to repent, to radically turn around, to change, to commit ourselves and our lives to God in faithfulness, and to others in liberating service: in other words, to be and to do.
James E. Magaw puts it this way: