Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

3rd Sunday of Lent(C)
March 7, 2010

However much we desire certainty and stability, the glaring truth that besets us daily is really its opposite – the uncertainty of the times, the instability of everything on which our daily earthly lives are anchored … our jobs, our relationships, everything that we work so hard for like our financial security, our family unity and integrity, the trust that friends and colleagues alike have on us … All this could be snuffed out quickly and, at times, even unexpectedly. “Here, we have no lasting city…” “The world and all its pleasures are fast drifting away.”

Certainly, those who went through a horrifying earthquake over the weekend in Chile, and the scores who perished in another earthquake more than a month ago in Haiti, experienced first hand the fragility and uncertainty of life in this world.

This offers us all a good opportunity to reflect on what today’s readings tell us partly.

All three readings are a study in contrast. The first and second readings evoke solid certainty, reliable stability, and sure steadfastness. In a world marred by tentativeness and wavering trust on all fronts; in a society characterized by doubt and fear and worry, God reveals Himself to Moses as a picture of unmistakable and stable presence: “I am who am.” With unflinching authority, God even tells Moses: “I am sent me to you… The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” In the world’s past and current atmosphere in which we find ourselves “under a cloud” and having to “pass through the sea,” St. Paul offers an analogy that speaks of solid certainty: “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The Gospel seems, at first blush, to stand in absolute contrast to what the first two readings speak about. A superficial understanding of the passage invariably leads to fear, taking it to mean that the Lord is warning us to repent, lest we suffer the fate of those unfortunate Galileans meted out a swift and cruel punishment by Pilate. Fundamentalists and those who subscribe to a “fire and brimstone” type of spirituality based not on God’s love but on an unhealthy and theologically unbalanced “fear” of Divine chastisement, would love to hear this passage again and again.

But the truth of Scripture comes not from an isolated parable, but on the totality of Scripture, which includes so many considerations including context and literary genre of scriptural passages. Jesus aimed not at instilling fear of being punished similarly. Jesus aimed at instilling the idea of being always prepared. Jesus was really focusing on the need for repentance and reconciliation with God so that what is considered a human tragedy from every angle, does not become worse that what it already is. The worst tragedy that can befall us is being far from God, far from the ultimate source of stability and certainty. An even worse scenario, much worse than suffering a totally unforeseen earthly tragedy, is that of being so callous and indifferent to the time given us by God, to bear fruit, as represented by His patience on the barren fig tree.

Today’s liturgy, therefore, is at once consoling and gently nudging. It speaks to us about how “merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” But it also reminds us that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It tells us through Jesus’ parable, that time, indeed, is running out, and that the opportunities to repent are not endless, and that now is the time to take part in the workings of God’s grace.

We are at the heart of the Church’s Scriptural-based teaching on the so-called “divine-human participation” in the reality of salvation. Salvation, as the readings today make clear, is eminently a divine act and eminently a human act. Salvation is both a gift and a task. Salvation is God’s work, God’s grace, but grace cannot take effect without human cooperation. Grace builds on nature. Grace is something only the good God can give, but it cannot take effect in our lives without our own personal investment. God saves, yes, but we ought “to work for our salvation, in fear and trembling.”

The word we live in is fraught with a whole lot of uncertainties. The mystery of human iniquity has made this world a very unpredictable place. Terrorists continue to pose a threat to the ordinary person’s safety. The political situation has become, to say the least, utterly deplorable in many countries. Self-centered and greedy politicians and so-called “public servants” continue to disregard the demands of solidarity and the search for the common good. In the world’s top eleven most corrupt countries, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with the ranks of the middle class disappearing into the mass of suffering, at times, despairing populace. And the wealthy developed countries continue to live like as if the world’s resources were unlimited, continuing as they do to use up what took the earth millions of years to produce and store. It is ironic that a small percentage of the world’s population spends billions of dollars to slim down while a great majority is scrimping and scrounging for the next meal, living (or partially so) in a state of perpetual fasting and abstinence! It is even more tragic to note how much money is put to producing weapons of destruction, and so little spent to eradicate hunger and malnutrition all over the world.

The world is not only an unsure and unstable place. What makes it so is traceable to one and only one glaring reality – the mystery of sin, the mystery of iniquity, which is the situation all of us are in. “All men (and women) have fallen short of the glory of God.” Humanity, as a whole, is like a small boat, teetering in a swollen sea of pride, selfishness, greed, and the insatiable hunger for more and more. Sin has reduced life in many cases to a gamble, a bet, a journey with no sure destination.

This is the world that could use a bit more of reflection on the ultimate good news. This is the world that could use a bit more of attention on and could set its sights “on things that are above, rather than on things that are below.”

This is the alternative that today’s liturgy offers us all.

We may never know what is coming up ahead. We may never know what will happen to our family, to the nation, to the world. But there is one thing we all need to know – the utter importance of being prepared come what might, happen what may. For the Christian believer, touched by the moving spirit of God’s Word, the important thing is no longer that of trying to know what will happen, or when it will happen. What counts as important for the Christian is what he or she can do in the meanwhile, what he or she can do to contribute, to take part in the workings of God’s grace, to pitch in his or her share towards the building of a more caring and responsible society anchored on social justice and solidarity.

The journey up ahead is long and difficult. Not only that … it will remain fraught with uncertainty. Alone we cannot go far. With Christ as rock, however, we will. His life, his suffering, his death and his resurrection … they all sum up God’s self-revelation from of old: “I am who am … This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”


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