Studying God’s Word

Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9 [#Cycle]
The Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Lent challenges believers to an examination of conscience. Jesus’ call for repentance lies at the heart of this penitential season: In what ways do we remain separated from God?
We hear two separate stories in today’s Gospel reading: Jesus’ call for repentance and the parable of the barren fig tree. Luke’s connection of these traditions offers a good example of his interest in blending history and theology seen throughout Luke–Acts (see, for example, Lk 3:1-6; Acts 12:1-5). In the first part of the reading, Jesus recalls two recent events in which people unexpectedly died. He cites the Galileans who were murdered by Pilate and the accidental deaths of those killed in the tower collapse at Siloam as instructive reminders of the need for all to repent and be in right relationship with God, since no one knows the hour or day of their deaths.  
The story of these tragic deaths serves as a good backdrop for interpreting Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree. The parable speaks to the need for believers to “bear fruit” with the faith they have received. Believers bear good fruit by being grounded in repentance and seeking union with God. The parable also addresses God’s mercy and forgiveness tempered with the coming end-time. At some point in time, all will be held accountable to God on judgement day for the fruit they bore in this life.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul likewise speaks to the importance for believers to be self-reflective. Referring to Israel’s historic forty-year journey through the desert under the leadership and guidance of Moses, Paul reminds the Christian congregation how God reacted to the sinful behavior of the wandering Israelites: “God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.” Paul asserted that the death of the Israelites in the desert (dated to around 1200 BC) served as both an “example” and a “warning” for the Christians in Corinth. Believers in Christ are challenged to reject the “desire [for] evil things” and not “grumble.” Because Paul was convinced that the return of Christ and the arrival of the end-time were imminent, he often tempered his instructions with a strong sense of urgency: “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”
The first reading is taken from the Book of Exodus. The opening four chapters of Exodus, dated to around 1250 BC, recounts the circumstances leading to Israel’s slavery in Egypt, as well as Moses’ birth, early years, and call. In his call to be the prophet and leader of Israel, Moses found himself drawn to a burning bush and standing on “holy ground.” God identifies himself to Moses as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,” the God of the Hebrew peoples’ three great patriarchs. Responding to Israel’s “suffering” and “affliction,” God calls Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and into a new land, one “flowing with milk and honey.” And in doing so, God reveals to Moses his sacred and eternal name: “I AM.” God introduced himself to the ancient Israelites as God who is ever present in the here and now.  As the season of Lent continues, today’s readings are a reminder of the importance of spiritual discernment that properly leads us to ongoing repentance.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz