Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent


All of our readings today show us a bit different face of God and together they leave God rather mysterious.  Catechisms of the Catholic church overtime have described God as all-knowing, all-loving, all-present and so on.  Moses’ encounter with God can only be said to be awesome—from the burning bush that couldn’t be explained to the strange name, “I Am Who I Am” that God used.  Clearly God wanted to get Moses’ attention in a way he would always remember.

Exegetes who have looked at this name can’t agree on what it means.  They do agree that it is a Hebrew form of the verb “to be,” but can’t agree if it means, “I am who I am,” or I will be who I will be.”  Is God claiming to be the source of all that is, or is God saying something about the future?  It could be God’s way of telling us that as hard as we try, we can never fully understand who God is.  This is a God who lets us see, but doesn’t let us see all—perhaps because we couldn’t take it all in! I am presently reading a book by Fr. Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality and he seems to be saying that it is us humans who make God mysterious when really all God wants is for each of us to know that we are loved.

Rohr compares it to when we first fall in love.  The one loving us delights in us, enjoys us and when we are looked on with love, he says, we feel like our very best selves as we are reflected in the eyes of the lover—we can do anything and this is exciting.    God looks on each of us with love and calls us to love in return—to live our lives in a way that understands that to be loved means that we will love in return—first God and then others. Meister Eckhart says it a bit more loftily, “The eyes with which you will look back at God will be the same eyes with which God first looked at you.”

But you see friends, this gets rather messy, rather involved.  It is perhaps much easier to keep God’s love for us on our own terms—more abstract, less involved. Rohr says, “We will always resist relational, practical truth in favor of abstractions”—and I believe this truth has been played out in our Churches over time.  A God of our own making allows for more control over our lives.  When we return God’s gaze of love as did Jesus, our actions toward the rest of humanity are clear—we must move in love then, toward all.

Just as the first reading, the Gospel account from Luke is confusing as well.  It relates the story of the Galileans killed by Pilate and the people who were crushed by the wall.  This basically illustrates for us that we can’t understand why God allows bad things to happen to us—a question humankind has struggled with ever since the first covenant between God and people was made.  The one thing we do learn in this Gospel is that our loving God will always show us mercy as related in the beautiful story of the fig tree.  The owner is willing to give up on the tree—on us, whereas the vinedresser—God, wants the tree, wants us, to have a second chance.

Blessed John Duns Scotus, a 14th Century Franciscan believed that our God is about one thing and one thing only—love.  He proclaimed, unlike our Church universal today in its more conservative branches, and especially during this holy season of Lent, God’s purpose was to have an intimate relationship with humanity, not the traditional belief that Jesus came to die on the cross so as to save us from our sins.  Scottish scholar, Sister Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ states clearly, “The Incarnation was not plan B (because something went wrong in the garden)—it was always plan A”—God became one of us out of love, to show us in no uncertain terms, how to live, how to love.

For each of us, our journey through life is a process; coming to understand this mystery of how much God loves us. Few of us get to have a “burning bush” experience in our life-times like Moses did—something that seals in our hearts and minds that God is above and around, and within and will not let anything happen to us. We have all struggled with the “whys” in life—why horrible and sad things happen to people for no apparent reason.  Much in the news of late gives us reason to ponder and wonder why seemingly innocent people are made to suffer—a case in point—all those who have lost their lives as a result of so much gun violence.

Sometimes, we realize that tragedies happen due to people’s choices; something they ate or drank, or drugs ingested.  But other times, as in school shootings, the deaths of many innocents, leaves us reeling. Our hope is that we as a nation can do what we must to make our people safer going forward—we must take the necessary steps to make this so as in demanding that our Congress move on common sense gun safety measures.  If we truly are about protecting the children and all others, perhaps we need to, as a nation give up the weapons, or at least reduce the amount that make the slaughter of the innocents all too common, all too easy.

The same can be said of clergy sex abuse in our Church.  We must as a Church be willing to do whatever it takes to stop this abuse and we must demand this of our so-called leaders.  The clerical system must be dismantled because no matter what programs are in place, the danger of continued abuse is always there in a system that is run by only half the population, and doesn’t allow for input outside of the men in power.

We are comforted in the story of the fig tree as it reminds us to always remember that our loving God is a God of mercy, who will be there to stand with us in our pain, to give us a second chance, when needed.

Our family has been called to hold on to this truth recently when our daughter and son-in-law’s second pregnancy came to an end. When all goes well in life, we are prone to very simply proclaim that we are blessed.  When things don’t go well, do we then say, “God didn’t bless us?” In my faith and belief system, I must say that God didn’t cause the loss any more that God causes the good to happen, even though I impulsively am always ready to thank God for the good. Perhaps I need to rephrase my prayer, “Thank you God for standing with us in whatever life brings.”  I have come to see the wisdom in my husband’s simple prayer, “We are blessed, may everyone be blessed,” without giving anyone credit, but simply acknowledging the blessing.

Many of us grew up with the message that God sent Jesus, our brother to die for our sins and Lent was a time to dwell on that notion. It wasn’t something we questioned as children and grew into adulthood believing.  In a black and white world such theology can, for a time, be acceptable, but when placed alongside the “gray” of what life brings, it often falls short. Ministers over time have tried to give consolation to parents who have lost a child with the fact that God understands their loss because of Jesus’ death.  That old theology said God sent or chose to have Jesus die whereas the grieving parents didn’t choose to lose their child, so there is a disconnect. We would do much better to suggest that the God who always gives second chances, who is always loving us into the goodness for which we were made, will stand with us, cry with us and be there for all our needs.

Paul’s reading today from Corinthians, basically relates the story of how God through Moses saved the people from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land.  But this people forgot time and again the promises made to God and felt they were invincible—that they could live as they wished.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that God in Jesus asks that they live and act with justice, mercy and love toward all, just as Jesus showed them, shows us, the way.

The God whom we hopefully all believe in is one of love who wants a loving relationship with us, and thus sent us our brother, Jesus, to accomplish this. Yes, Jesus did die, but it was a direct result of how he had lived—not because of our sin. I believe a theology such as this makes sense to all of us and then allows God to bring comfort when we tell a grieving parent whose love relationship with their child ended in tragedy, or simply too soon, that just as God cried when Jesus died, God, who is all about love, cries now with you as well.

The psalmist’s prayer today can truly be ours in times of tragedy and hard times, “our God is truly kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in gracious ways.”  As we live our lives, I think it behooves us to have eyes and ears open to see the interventions God makes in our lives through parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors—God is always there—we just have to have eyes to see and recognize. A wonderful example of this for me in our present loss is the memory of our son crying with his sister when she related the truth of her loss with him—God was there in those shared tears—that I believe. We must remember as in our first reading today–God told Moses—he was standing on holy ground. We must never forget the chances we have daily to share God’s love, God’s desire to be one with us in the encounters of each day.  We too are standing on holy ground!

If we are waiting for one “burning bush” experience, we may miss the gracious appearance of our loving God in all we meet and touch each and every day.  May the ordinary, through new eyes, become “burning bush” experiences for each of us!