Third Sunday of Lent, Year C

Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15; Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9

First Reading: In this dialogue with God, Moses wants to know how he is to speak about the experience of the suffering that has happened to the Chosen People. He is given the revelation of a new name for God, one that is personal and speaks of the ongoing and everlasting relationship that god will carry through all generations with the Chosen People.

Psalm 103: In this Jubilee of Mercy, “The Lord is kind and merciful” seems like such a simple phrase. Yet the second stanza of the psalm unpacks the abundant breadth of it. The Lord forgives all sin, heals all ills, and redeems our lives from destruction. The summons to bless the Lord at the beginning of this psalm is an apt way to offer praise and gratitude.

Second Reading: In today’s second reading, Paul’s clear message to the Corinthians to avoiding grumbling goes much deeper than complaint. Do not follow the same path as your unfaithful ancestors who turned their backs on God. Pay attention to the example of what happened to them; this Church too could lose God’s favor. We remember each day during this Lenten journey that we must demonstrate fidelity to God again and again at the depths of our being.

Gospel: In today’s parable, we can sense the vineyard owner’s frustration keeping a tree that has not produced fruit for three years. A barren tree takes time, energy and space. Better to cut one’s losses and plant a new one. But the gardener intercedes asking for a little long time to nurture it before it meets its fate. God is both like the owner and the gardener. God wants us to bear fruit now rather than biding our time. And yet out of the loving kindness God offers mercy and more time.

Reflection: The challenge of Lent is urgent: “repent or perish; bear fruit or be cut down.” But what does this urgency mean for most of us who are scarcely huge sinners?

Today’s Gospel offers lessons in both our need for repentance and God’s continued patient, faithful, and enduring love. Jesus warns his followers that escaping death or injury due to injustice or tragedy does not mean that they are less guilty and more deserving than others who have not. It was a strong Jewish assumption that suffering was caused by one’s level of sinfulness. Rejecting this rationale, Jesus states that all are called to conversion of mind and repentance of heart in their relationship to God. Jesus follows up this warning with the parable of the fig tree, a version unique to Luke. The desire of the owner to cut down the unproductive fig tree is countered by the gardener who recommends patience, greater care, and more time to allow the tree to produce. Luke’s Jesus clearly asserts that God desires repentance and conversion, yet God is ever gracious and always loving, giving us the time that we need to respond in loving trust and mutual love to God and others.

As long as there is life, there is potential to bear fruit. With God we always have another chance. This “chance” is what we call repentance—choosing new life and bearing good fruit. Are you ready to do some “cultivating?”

Question for reflection: What “cultivating” do I need to do for a more productive discipleship?     ●

© 2016, Scott W. Eakins. All rights reserved.

1 thought on “Third Sunday of Lent, Year C”

  1. Exodus 3.1-8, 13-15
    Psalm 103. 1-4, 6-8
    1 Corinthians 10. 1-6, 10-12
    Luke 13.1-9

    Anyone here know how long Mother Church has brought these three readings to be read together on this Sunday? I wonder that they were presented together like this in the early church. If they had been, we might have a chest filled over the centuries with reflective homilies. Regardless of how long, they are posted next to each other so that we may make sense of them severally and individually.

    Here are threads from each that can be traced in all:

    Exodus 3:7 But the LORD said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so IKNOW WELL WHAT THEY ARE SUFFERING.

    Psalm 103:4 WHO REDEEMS YOUR LIFE FROM THE PIT,
    and crowns you with mercy and compassion…

    1 Cor 10:1    I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and ALL PASSED THROUGH THE SEA.

    Luke 13:8 He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; 9 IT MAY BEAR FRUIT IN THE FUTURE. If not you can cut it down.’

    All of these threads pull together an understanding of a Creator God who is very much aware of the condition of his creatures and of his plan for his creatures.

    Luke recalls that some people were upset about the tolls of mass deaths —one brought about by the political mayhem of Pilate and the other by a natural or engineering calamity. Were these signs of God rendering judgment? Not so, says Jesus. I AM is aware of suffering. He tends his garden to bear fruit.

    So then we can turn around in hope during Lent.

    An ancillary Scripture can be had in Leviticus:

    Lev 19:23   When you come into the land and plant any fruit tree there, first look upon its fruit as if it were uncircumcised. For three years, it shall be uncircumcised for you; it may not be eaten. 24 In the fourth year, however, all of its fruit shall be dedicated to the LORD in joyous celebration. 25 Not until the fifth year may you eat its fruit, to increase the yield for you. I, the LORD, am your God.

    When Jesus tells the parable of the “owner” of an orchard he speaks of someone who has a take on fruitfulness and harvest time that is different from the gardener’s, who knows what he is about.

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