3rd Sunday of Lent (C); March 27, 2016
Ex 3:1-8,13-15; Ps 103; 1 Cor 10:1-6; Lk 13:1-9
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
Throughout the Catholic Church, today is the First Scrutiny for catechumens. Who are catechumens? They are those who have inquired into becoming a member of the Catholic Church and, after a period of discernment, have embraced a period of catechetical formation which leads to initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Today, the Nicene Creed is presented to them as they discern whether they want to profess their Faith within the Catholic Tradition.
Today is also a day of warning to those who call themselves believers. Christians: Watch Out! Our tradition tells us that all that has happened before serves as a warning: do we live as if we’re on hallowed ground? You may ask: How can the ground at Folsom Prison be hallowed, be sacred? Two reasons: God is here and you are here. When those two are conjoined, you’re on sacred ground. As a child, most of us have been baptized. How are we responding to our baptismal call? Are we sanctifying our life? Are we a spokesperson for God in our here and now circumstances? Are we using power to serve others? In other words, is our life bearing fruit? At this moment, in this place is God pleased with us? The Lenten season calls us who have been baptized, confirmed, given Eucharist and forgiveness to be faithful to our baptism. The Lenten season is a time for us to take our temperature, so to speak, to gauge our active trust in God.
The readings begin with the call of Moses who encounters the Divine in a burning bush that was ablaze but not consumed—a classic description of a mystical experience. It’s a fire that should destroy, but does not. Brothers, as we get closer to God, our attachments and addictions, will gradually be burned away. This fire does not destroy but gives life. It’s a fire of purification that burns away our illusions so that we can see and live the truth. This journey of faith, which our catechumens have come to appreciate, is one of loss and surrender to the one true God.
After revealing Himself to Moses, God immediately gives Moses a challenge. “I have heard the cry of my people; I have witnessed their affliction; I know what they are suffering. .. Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Ex 3:7,10). Pharaoh represents the dominant consciousness of culture—it’s the conventional way of thinking and living which goes to any means to preserve itself. It represents a culture that treats human beings as objects that can be thrown away or forgotten when they are no longer useful.
The Israelites, on the other hand, represent the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. The Lord, who has witnessed how the Egyptians have oppressed His people, hears their cry. Stay with that, brothers: right here and now, God witnesses what your are enduring. He hears your cry of complaint. And, he understands full well what you are suffering.
And, what does God do? He sends Moses to liberate His people from their slavery, which is what God continues to call His people to do. The Exodus Experience is a movement out of slavery and oppression into freedom. As such, it is a template for spiritual transformation. What God did for the Hebrews, he’ll do for you, if you cooperate with his liberating grace.
Not surprisingly, Moses resists and objects to that call: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt” (v. 11)? Who am I to confront the oppressive systems of this world that bring injustice, violence, death, and environmental degradation? Who hasn’t felt like that? The oppressive systems of the world just seem so powerful, that it’s easy to simply give in. “If you want to get along, go along.” Why fight it? But, God doesn’t take “no” for an answer and sends Moses to confront Pharaoh and by virtue of our baptism, He sends us. He sends you into this prison culture to bring Light into the darkness. It’s this call that the catechumens are eagerly embracing. Are you embracing this mission?
Brothers, if we are truly worshiping God, we will hear the cry of the suffering and afflicted, those who are the victims of the powers of this world. If we worship God, Who cannot abide injustice and needless pain, we will obey’ God’s command to set others free and share our life with them. Like Moses, we know holy ground in the presence of Jesus, in the Word, in the Eucharist, and in the Body of Christ, the Church.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians cites the history of God’s people as an example for us, a warning. We are not to take for granted what has been given to us in such overflowing abundance. Are we grateful? Do we share our lives and resources with the Body of Christ? Do we belong to God? Do we live lives of justice, peace, and non-violence so we can move forward, faces toward the true worship of God? We have all read and listened to the same Word and shared the same Eucharist, sacraments, community, and Spirit. Is God pleased with us?
Jesus in the Parable of the Fig Tree is calling us to repentance. He is always urging us to come back; He seems to intuit the difficulty of keeping on the spiritual path. But, I am baffled, quite frankly, by this parable. I’m not a gardener, but I have been told that it takes about seven years for a fig tree to bear fruit, so it isn’t surprising that there’s no fruit after three years. But it is the owner of the orchard who is the impatient one, not the gardener who wants more time to work the soil and fertilize the tree. It reminds me of my brother-in-law, who is always given plants, especially orchids, to tend because he takes the time and has the patience to nurture them. Do we put in the time and have the patience to nurture our spiritual lives.
What the parable may be asking us is this: do we have anything at all to show for life in the Spirit? Are we bearing fruit? If people followed us around for a day or a week, would they come to the conclusion that we are Christians: would they see how we love our brothers and sisters? If we were accused of being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us? If not, maybe it is time for some serious hoeing and fertilizing so we can bear fruit this year.
The tricky part is the implementation, isn’t it? Each of us is at different places in our spiritual journey so the way we go about it will vary. What applies to all of us though is taking time and engaging in some regular practice that keeps us focused on our relationship to God. Creating that time and finding an effective practice rest on each of us to discover and implement. The operative word is regular The fig tree will not grow if the gardener waters it one day and then forgets to water it for a month. The fig tree will not grow if the gardener decides to fertilize the tree but stops after the first of several applications. We have to be active and consistent in living as the people of God. If we do, we will bear fruit. Amen.