March 18, 2022

Third Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionIn the first reading for Mass this weekend, from the Book of Exodus, Moses encountered God. Moses was tending his father-in-law’s flock when suddenly an angel appeared to him in a bush that was on fire, but was not being consumed. Then God spoke—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His identity was clear.

God, always with his people, knew of their plight. He was intervening in the situation to give the people relief. As events unfolded, Moses was the instrument of this relief. He would lead the people out of Egypt.

The reading reveals intimacy and immediacy in God’s relationship with the people. God is almighty and above all. Moses feared to look upon God’s face. By removing his footwear, he showed respect even for the ground upon which he met God.

Yet, God spoke his divine name to Moses, a supreme revelation in itself. In the Hebrew tradition, a proper name expressed the very being of the person. To know a person’s name was to have access to the person’s identity. God freely spoke this name.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the second reading. Corinth’s Christian community challenged Paul since the city was a reservoir of excesses and moral outrages. Christians were tempted. With cause, Paul warned them of the temptations surrounding them, indeed bombarding them. He warned them, taught them and sought to inspire them.

Recalling the history of God’s people, Paul insisted that the people would die without God’s guidance and the nourishment he provided. What they had from earthly resources would not protect or sustain them. With God, they would live forever.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. This reading gives one of the rare glimpses of Pontius Pilate in the Gospels outside the passion narratives. It is hardly complimentary to him. The Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to death was ruthless and unmerciful.

An ancient tradition is that imperial authorities eventually recalled Pilate to Rome because of his brutality, a brutality too vicious even for accepted standards of Roman governance.

He certainly had no regard whatsoever for the people of Israel or their religion in which they worshipped God.

Jesus said that clearly the victims of Pilate’s impetuous cruelty did not deserve what they received. Jesus referred his listeners to an accidental disaster in which 18 people were killed by a falling tower in Siloam, noting that they too were innocent. The tower simply fell on them.

All those to whom Jesus referred in the story perished, innocent or not, unable to control evil decisions of others, or mishaps of nature, or things crafted by humans. He warned that they too were vulnerable.

Jesus told the parable of the barren fig tree. The owner wanted to destroy the tree, but the vinedresser pleaded for another year, enough time to nourish the tree in the hope that it would bear fruit.

Reflection

In these Lenten readings, the Church is frank. Just as the vinedresser pleaded for time for the tree to develop, the Church pleads for time for us, providing Lent as an opportunity for us to think and to reform.

We well may be victims of human coldness and human evil, as were the victims of Pilate’s outrage. We may be victims of nature, but all humans must face the fact that they cannot rely upon themselves alone.

Eternal life alone matters, honestly speaking. As Paul said, abandoning God reaps a whirlwind of calamity.

God alone is the sure support. Lovingly, God provides guidance, support and eternal life in Jesus.

Humbly turning to God and following the Lord are the only answers. The decision belongs to us. Lent is a useful tool to be used when we seek to see reality and make our decision. †

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