God is always faithful, merciful, compassionate

  • February 18, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent (Year C) Feb. 28 (Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9)

God often appears in the midst of the ordinary and mundane. Moses was only doing what he had done for so long — minding the flocks of his father-in-law. The bush that burned without being consumed was a flash of the transcendent and extraordinary.

Ancient people approached any manifestation of the divine with both reverent awe and absolute terror, and the encounter of Moses was no exception. To signify the extraordinary nature of the event, he was commanded to remove his shoes, for a holy space required special behaviour.

There was nothing abstract or esoteric in the divine revelation. God immediately revealed the divine nature in the way in which Moses was greeted.

God is faithful, remembering His people and the commitment made to them. God was concerned with the injustice and misery they were suffering, desiring to set them free and lead them to a place of safety that they could call home. Moses was perplexed — he needed a name for this God that was commanding him to confront one of the world’s superpowers. But to name means to control, and God refused to be nailed down with a name or concept. “I am who I am” was the only label that God would accept. There are several ways that this can be translated, but the general sense is this: God just is, and will not be pigeonholed or labelled. God prefers to be experienced rather than analysed, and prefers relationship to mere worship. This was evident in the way God wanted to be remembered: God’s name forever is “the one who was faithful to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

This is something to remember when we feel abandoned or forgotten by God. God is always faithful, God is always merciful and compassionate, God does not forget God’s promises. As Pope Francis said so well, the name of God is mercy.

Utilizing symbolic rabbinic exegesis, Paul used the story of the exodus and journey through the wilderness for a reflection on God’s continuing presence and mercy. God was always with the people of God in the wilderness. Even Christ was present, and the Israelites experienced a form of baptism in the passage through the sea. There was physical and spiritual food and drink. They were cared for and protected, but that does not mean that they could take their status for granted. Their negative and unfaithful behaviour brought disaster on their heads.

Paul used this story to drive home an important point to the community in Corinth. Just because they were the people of God and enjoyed a special relationship, they could not become careless about their behaviour. Throughout his letter, Paul took them to task for division, factionalism, selfishness and sexual immorality. The quality of their relationship with Christ was measured in the day-to-day conduct of the community.

The same principle was at work in the response of Jesus to two well-known contemporary disasters in which people had been killed. One of them was a construction accident, the other a slaughter of some Galileans at the hands of Pilate. People have a tendency to view such events as divine punishment, but Jesus seemed to brush aside this suggestion. The victims were not worse sinners than anyone else — sometimes things just happen and good people suffer. On the other hand, He used the opportunity to urge His listeners to clean up their act. Their behaviour and way of life left much to be desired, and if they continued on the same path, they would wind up suffering the consequences of their choices.

This applies to nations and institutions as well as individuals. As in Paul’s letter, they could not count on their “status” for a free pass. Jesus ended with a parable, a tried-and-true ancient theological teaching tool. The fig tree that did not bear fruit was slated for immediate destruction. A very patient gardener, however, was willing to spend the time and energy to coax it to life. That illustrates God’s incredible patience and care for us.

Our everyday life is an opportunity to learn spiritual life lessons and to make corrections in our attitudes, words and actions. We should not confuse patience and forbearance for weakness or indulgence. It is a gift and a mercy that should be gratefully put to use.

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