SUNDAY REFLECTION THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C                               

       EXODUS 3:1-8, 13-15, 1 COR 10:1-6, 10-12, LUKE 13:1-9


Luke gives us a pair of stories that call us to repentance. The Gospel reading makes us meditate deeply on how God detests sinful living and the destructive power of sin (vv. 1-5). He also gives us a parable that illustrates the patience and love of God for humanity (vv. 6-9).  Both stories call for repentance.  The story of the Galileans warns of the coming judgment and the reality of uncertainties of life. Anything can happen at any moment.   Jesus using the event again to warn about living in sin indicates that sin also brings punishment. Secondly, the fig-tree parable (vv. 6-9) offers hope that the Lord always waits for the sinner to repent. The second part of the story from Luke is somehow in consonance with that of the message of the first reading of today. The first reading expresses God’s readiness to save the people of Israelites in the midst of slavery in Egypt. He hears their cry and now has come to save them. This expresses God’s love for humanity and readiness to help those who call on him in times of trouble. It is this God’s love that still kept us alive despite our unworthiness. In the gospel reading then, the fig tree has already stayed for three years without bearing fruit and the number 3 in Hebrew numerology indicates a complete number. Three is the first number to which the meaning “all” was given. It is the number of the whole as it contains the beginning, middle and an end. So the 3 years indicates that the chance given to the tree to bear fruit has already completed and in essence has to be uprooted. Remember that in John 15:1-2, Jesus calls God the Vinedresser” “My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit”. So, It is the will of God that no one will perish but have eternal life.  Another year given to the tree to bear fruit indicates God’s grace and love for his people. He still gives chances upon chances to come back to Him. This expresses the significance of the Lenten season as a season of grace and God’s mercy for sinners.

The Tragedy

The news is indeed terrible. Galileans came to the temple to make their sacrifices, and Pilate’s soldiers slaughtered them in that holy place, profaned the altar with human blood. Luke is our only source of information about these tragedies. The mention of Pilate, mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices appears to refer to a massacre of a group of Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem. The narrative does not reveal why Pilate slaughtered these people, but the deed nevertheless corresponds with what other historical writings tell about Pilate’s penchant for brutality. A scholar explained that this was one of the reasons Jesus was brought before Pilate. They know he must condemn Jesus to death.  Jesus also refers to the collapse of “the tower of Siloam.” a structure that collapsed without warning and crushed eighteen hapless Jerusalemites.

Jesus seizes on these two calamities to invite His followers to repentance. Both kinds of events lead the rest of us to realize how precarious our existence is. Jesus implies that the victims did nothing wrong, nothing that caused their demise. He characterizes life as just as capricious. Life is full of uncertainties. One should not take whatever happens to him as a punishment from God, so we must not equate tragedy with divine punishment. Some tragedies just come. Not every tragedy is a result of sin. This still calls for daily preparation. No one knows what may happen in the next second.

Unless you repent you will all Perish

When Jesus says, twice, “Unless you repent, you will all perish” like the others did, he does not promise that the godless will be struck by an asteroid. He refers to death in an eschatological sense, a destruction of one’s soul (compare Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33). He emphasizes the uncertainty of life and suddenness with which this death comes. Just as  the tower’s victims did not enjoy the luxury of choosing the time of their demise, likewise the unrepentant will suddenly find they have delayed too long and lost themselves. He does not promise freedom from calamity, but urges his hearers to be prepared always and run away from sin. Jesus denies that the Galileans suffered because of their sins, but calls his listeners to repent lest they suffer for theirs. We all have sinned. Jesus constantly calls his listeners to repent so that they might escape the consequences of sin.

Now what does “perish” mean? Sometimes the word simply means to suffer in the sense that we all will suffer physically. But that would not fit here since Jesus implies that if we repent, we will not perish, and also there is a clear indication that both the righteous also experience suffering in this world “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish implies that” If you DO repent, you won’t perish. But still many suffer.  So perish is something more than simply die a physical death or going through earthly suffering. To perish also indicates eternal damnation for the sinner.

Luke gives us illustrations of “perishing” in the face of judgment. Luke 10:13–15 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. Luke 11:32 “The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Luke 16:29–31 “After his death the unrepentant rich man is in torment. He asks Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers, so they don’t perish in this place of torment”. From time immemorial God has called people to Himself. We choose to respond and be saved or refuse to respond and be damned. The choice is ours.

The Barren Tree

Here Jesus continues to emphasize the danger of living in sin. He harped on the inability to produce good fruits and the reality of God’s love, who also gives the tree time, not just giving it time but adding more manure to ensure its growth. After creation, one of the injunctions God gave man is to be fruitful, which entails righteous living and good use of what God has given to us. These verses indicate the importance of not just avoiding sin but the need to do good. When a tree bears fruit, it does not eat its fruit; the fruit is eaten by others. This passage expresses the need to help others around us, the need to show love to the needy and those around you and the need to be good. It also expresses the need to make good use of whatever that is handed to your care. Make out something from what is given to you. How do you use your gifts in the service of others? How do you care for the flock handed to you? How do you take care of those you are in charge of? God expects you to bring something good out of whatever He has handed to you.

This parable also expresses how unproductiveness can invite the anger of God, the constant availability of the grace of God to produce good fruits and the reality of the love of God. God loves us so that His love can lead us to repentance. When you harden your heart towards God, he gives you time to repent, he will bring people to you, make you hear His word constantly and even cause many events to happen to you only to make you fruitful and  repent. Obstinacy to these gracious acts cannot but lead one to be cut off into eternal damnation. God is full of mercy and compassion. He is patient and loving, But God is also a God of judgment, and Christ is warning here that a time of final judgment will still come, especially a life that has had opportunities to repent. Repentance is necessary, and it is possible with God’s help. He is patient and grants us time to change and bear fruit. Yet at the same time, none of us knows how much time we have left. So we better redress our steps and come back to God. God has given you another year, another moment to come back to Him. This is Lenten season. What are you waiting for?

May God give us the strength to abide by his word and respond to His grace around us. God has given us another second chance to repent, may He give you the strength not to misuse this opportunity again in your life. Amen

Fr. Sanctus Mario