God of second chances

Third Sunday in Lent

Blessed hunger, holy feast – God pours out life-giving drink

  • Isaiah 55:1-9 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the water
  • Psalm 63:1-8 O God…I seek you, my soul thirsts for you
  • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 God is faithful….will not let you be tested
  • Luke 13:1-9 Unless you repent, you will perish

Prayer

Eternal God, we are often slow to hear your Incarnate Word in Jesus. Remind us today that your Living Word is a strong word, even a hard word for us as much as for Jesus’ first hearers. It is even harder to follow Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross before we join the risen Jesus. Yet in our heart of hearts we are hungry to hear you; we long to live wholly with Jesus on this journey of life and death and new life. Turn our hearts more deeply to you each day and keep us faithful to Jesus, your eternal Word become flesh who lives among us and in whose name we pray. Amen.

Worship and Walking with Jesus

In Teaching A Stone to Talk, local author Annie Dillard chastised Christians for going to church much too comfortably and callously. Her warning words startle us into a new consciousness.

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews (40).

Annie Dillard’s warning words are meant to waken us to the journey with Jesus that we are on, not just in Lent but always. She sounds like Jesus in the Gospel today.

Monasteries are one place that initially got it right. Fifteen centuries ago, when Benedict wrote what has become known as The Rule of Saint Benedict, he instructed monasteries not to let anyone too easily. Let the person be persistent and try three times before receiving them into monastic life. At the same time, Benedict instructed the monks to “receive everyone who comes as Christ.” That paradox of monastic life is what Jesus is preparing us for today.

Confronted by disaster – Luke 13:1-9

Lest we became complacent in following Jesus, Luke reminds us on this third Sunday in Lent that life with Jesus will not let us rest in smug satisfaction or glorious entertainment.

Our journey with Jesus continues. It is a risking and rigorous journey. It has taken us from a wilderness temptation to an encounter with Pharisees over Herod. Now Jesus reminds them of two crushing disasters.

Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem. The heart of Luke’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Luke chapters 9-19, tell this travel narrative.

To see Jesus, to hear Jesus and to know Jesus means the disciples have to go on this journey with Jesus. So do we — if we are to see and follow Jesus.

It has been said that “If you want to know what a person believes, you watch their feet not their mouth.” Your mouth can say anything, but your feet show what you really believe. Lent is a worship season that confronts us with self-examination and repentance on a journey, where we are forced to ask hard questions and give hard answers along the way (Richard Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Luke, 124).

In other words, we are to “believe with our feet not just our mouth.”

A crushing defeat of a revolt has taken place. And a tower has collapsed crushing victims in the rubble. Everybody knew the news of the day.

On this day in the life of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, the talk of the town was about two disasters, one a disaster of human construction, the other an accidental construction disaster – the former a Galilean revolt crushed and the later a fallen [Jerusalem] tower crushing its victims.

Hearing this Gospel story makes it sound like Jesus is becoming a “hellfire and brimstone” traveling evangelist warning of judgment and eternal damnation.

These two disasters serve as a warning. But warnings of what? They are warnings to repent. But how do they call for repentance?

While referring to the news of the day in these two disasters, Jesus is issuing a warning that comes with judgment. But as usual, Jesus upsets the prevailing wisdom of the day. Jesus clearly rejects any hint that the victims were being punished for their sinfulness while others are exempt. Jesus firmly refutes that his hearers were somehow less sinful than the victims and therefore, in no need of repentance.

Some years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote about the dilemma of When Bad Things Happen to Good People . The prevailing assumption of Jesus’ day was that bad things happened to you as punishment for sin (Cf. Man born blind in John 9).

Jesus is saying that it is wrong to interpret disasters in this selective way. Without attempting to judge the sinfulness of others, people should see such events as a warning to take stock of their own lives lest greater disaster befall them.

Jesus is not drawn into a debate about who is to blame and how they got what was coming to them. Rather Jesus speaks the need for everyone to repent. We all sin and fall short of what God creates us to be and do.

Jesus asks “those present” a hard question: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”

We might ask: Do you think that those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 are more guilty than we are? Or Jesus would ask us a harder question: Do we think that those who invade and occupy Iraq are more guilty than we are? Or another hard question: Do I think that those without homes are more guilty than I am?

Jesus answers his own question, “No, I tell you.” Then Jesus speaks the real truth of his message: “But unless you repent, you will perish as they did.”

Jesus is speaking about judgment and calling for repentance. We are not left off the hook.

There is no easy judgment. Someone has called today’s Jesus a “Jesus is my boyfriend” romantic relationship that neglects all the hard sayings and the real life of Jesus.

Having given a strong warning from the daily news, Jesus goes on to tell a short parable.

It is a conversation between a land owner and a gardener. The owner sees that a fig tree isn’t productive and doesn’t bear fruit. So the owner orders the fig tree to be cut down. Land should be used for productive plants. The gardener intercedes pleading for a second chance. The gardener even promises to take better care to the fig tree by watering and fertilizing it so that it has the better opportunity to bear fruit. The gardener pleads for “one more year” to produce fruit.

Jesus is not issuing only message of judgment. Jesus is calling us to repentance and calling us to bear fruit – we are to be like a fig tree bearing good figs. If we never liked being seen as meek sheep following a lowly shepherd, we probably won’t much like the idea of being a non-bearing fig tree under threat of being cut down.

If we identify the two disaster stories Jesus refers to, we would call this mile-marker on the road with Jesus a “Repent or Perish” fork in the road. If we identify the mile marker on the road with Jesus by the parable of the fig tree, we would call this fork in the road with Jesus a “Produce fruit or be cut down” decision.

Someone once asked, “If you were on trial for faithfully following Jesus Christ would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Yes, Jesus issues a strong warning on the way to Jerusalem. Yes, Jesus calls us to repentance and to bear fruit. Jesus also intercedes for us giving us another chance. Even on this road to Jerusalem, we hear the warning and are given a second chance by our God of second chances. We are given a second chance this very day.

Jesus’ fig tree parable turns our attention to another prophetic reference to a fig tree. The Prophet Micah poses the same choice between unproductive violence and productive peacemaking: They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid” (4:3b-4a…. Malinda Berry, GC Devotion, 3/9/07 ).

The Prophet and the Psalmist name our deepest hunger and thirst for God..

Isaiah 55 provides one of the greatest poetic prophetic words of the Bible.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully….and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come…..; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant….
Seek God while God may be found, call upon God while God is near.  
Isaiah 55:1-3, 6

John Dear, a prayerful preacher and peace activist, says that Isaiah’s prophetic words provide the “three basic movements of the spiritual life: climbing the mountain of God; encountering the God of the mountain; and journeying back down the mountain on God’s mission of disarmament and peace” (John Dear, SJ, NCR, 2/27/07)

The Psalm gives us the theme words for Lent and our journey with Jesus:

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.    Psalm 63:1, 3-5

However hard the journey with Jesus, we who are so thirsty and hungry that we truly seek God are given a second chance to repent and believe with our feet as well as our mouth. You will bear fruit as you follow Jesus on The Way.