Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent 2013

by Molly Brockwell, OSB
March 2, 2013

Readings: Exodus 32:7-14; Luke 13:1-9

When Susan asked me to give this reflection, I didn’t look at the readings before agreeing.  Great. I get the readings full of bad news and sad stories!  The Israelites have messed up in a big way, and God is ready to wipe them out.  Some Galileans were killed by Herod and then their bodies desecrated.  People in Jerusalem were crushed when the tower of Siloam fell.  Oh, and don't forget the fig tree that's not producing! Let's just tear the thing out!

As I sat with the readings I started to wonder just where I fit in.  Am I the wayward Israelites, the unproductive fig tree?  Well, yes.  Am I God, or the land owner being called to offer another chance? At times.  What about Moses and the gardener—am I called to intercede for those needing another chance? Indeed.

I found myself drawn to ponder the role of Moses, especially.  It’s impressive how Moses goes to bat for that motley band of Israelites.  Wait a minute!  Isn't this the same guy that tried five times to turn down this job?  Aren’t those Israelites the same folks Moses complains to God about time and again in their forty years in the desert? But here he is pleading with God not to destroy them for their wickedness.  What is going on here?!  Come to think of it, it isn't so strange.  Aren’t we often like that in community?  I've had it up to here with Sister Aggravatia, but my heart goes out to her when I hear she is sick, or lost her job, or found out her brother has cancer.  I wonder, was God really planning to deal harshly with the Israelites, or was the threat a means to stir up Moses' love and compassion?

In the gospel, surely the gardener was frustrated with the unfruitful tree, and had pondered taking it down as well.  Had people been speculating about what kind of sins the Galileans must have committed to deserve the atrocities they endured? Was the 1st century version of Westboro Baptist Church cheering that tower collapse was God's punishment of a sinful people?  Jesus awakens in his hearers' hearts the love and compassion that God placed there, the mercy and tenderness that we have received time and again when we were the ones who needed a second chance.

To what, then, does this gospel call us?  Perhaps we are being called to compassion for those who are suffering, even if it is a result of their own poor choices.  We are called to greater patience and support for those who choose lenience and forgiveness in spite of calls for vengeance.  We are called to speak on behalf of those who are suffering, who are ready to start again.  Finally, we are being called to gratitude for the second chances we've received.