Homily 2-28-16 3rd Sunday Lent year C Ex 3:1-15, Ps 103,1Cor 10:1-12, Luke 13 1-9
The action generally starts on Sunday with the Gospel, but today we have a sort of “pre-game show” in Exodus. All too often Moses gets billed as the “Giver of the Law”, a title which seriously underestimates him as a major player. We have to go back to his amateur days for some background.
Moses was the Hebrew baby set afloat in a basket in the reeds on the edge of the Nile River. Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew boy babies must be killed, fearing that the Hebrews (the Israelites) would join with an enemy to attack Egypt. We would say, “This Pharaoh was a wall-guy, not a bridge builder.”
Baby Moses was indeed saved, and adopted as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Fast forward about 30-40 years. One day he was visiting the Hebrews and saw an Egyptian “striking”, or depending on how you translate it, “killing” a Hebrew man. His motives are not entirely clear, but Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. But Pharaoh got word of it, and Moses had to flee to the land of Midian, west of Egypt, across the Red Sea. There he married the daughter of Jethro, and settled down, tending the flocks of his father-in law. He led the flock to Mount Sinai. There he saw that “burning bush” and the world changed.
You know the story. God pulled no punches with him. God said,” I know of the suffering of my people in Egypt. I have come to rescue them. I will give them a spacious land, fertile and rich in resources. I will send you to Pharaoh to lead them out of Egypt.”
Don’t think for a minute that Moses said, “Oh goody!!” For a guy who described himself as slow of speech, he was quick to point out 4 reasons why he wasn’t the man for the job. “Who am I that I should go?” he modestly asks, meaning he just isn’t qualified for leadership. God simply responds, “I will be with you”.
Then Moses insists that the people don’t know God, and will not believe it. He says, “They will ask, ‘What is the name of this God of our fathers’; what shall I tell them?” He’s trying to say, “Uh, God, it’s not like you and I are on a first name basis. I’m not so sure I believe this either.” But God responds, “I am who I am. Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM sent you.’” I’m not sure that satisfied Moses, but it’s given theologians something to struggle with for hundreds of years. Perhaps the cleverness of it is that it is un-translatable.
But even that doesn’t stop Moses; he continues to object. “Suppose the elders won’t listen to me. Even if I convince the people, the leaders won’t buy it.” Now God gives Moses the power to turn his staff into a snake, make his hand appear white with leprosy, and turn river water into blood. God is pressing him hard to take on this job.
Finally, Moses says, “I am not eloquent; I am slow of speech.” God has heard enough excuses; it’s time to act. He reminds Moses that he gives the power of speech. So Moses went to Egypt, the Israelites believed him, and the people of God were freed from slavery.
Do you find it amazing that God would use a murderer and fugitive, a doubter, someone who stinks of sheep, a man who makes excuses to God, and one who lacks the verbal skills and charisma to lead people? I was an employment counselor for 13 years; I took great care to match people well to jobs. But God? God sees things in people we don’t see, and God provides all that is lacking. God is a God who takes us, with all our faults, our failures, our lacking, our negativity, our hesitancy, our violence and our ignorance – and loves us and offers us forgiveness and 2nd chances. In this season of Lent, we are called to the Great I Am, as the old time preachers would sing, “Just as I am.”
So now to the Gospel, where Jesus is talking about the news of the day with the people. They want Jesus to tell them that people have been killed by Pilate because they were sinful, and workers were killed when a tower fell because they were guilty. The people feel safer if guilt is assigned to “them”. But Jesus says those who are dead are NOT guiltier than anyone else and then he turns it back to those pointing the finger of blame, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Then he tells them a parable about a fig tree which produces no figs. The owner says, “Cut it down; it’s a waste of time and dirt!” But the gardener begs for one short year to make it productive.
We don’t have to look too far to see this is another instance of 2nd chances, and God is again urgently pressing us to act. Jesus’ message of repentance is directed to all, not just a select few, and Luke is clear that fruit – aka visible change of behavior – is expected. We must develop a sense that our actions really are significant and we are responsible for feeding others in both a concrete and symbolic sense. We, as individuals and as The Church, should be the very symbol of divine plenty, and not be fruitless in our faith.
St. Paul in our 2nd reading reminds us of the history of Israel, and the tragedies of God’s people who desired evil things, who grumbled, who became self-righteous, and who serve as a warning for us. Jesus’ call to us, in all generations, is on the edge between mercy and judgment; and judgment is never canceled but merely postponed. This short delay is the time for repentance, reorganization of our thought processes, new awareness, new behavior, change, and action – life lived out loud in obedience to the will of God.