Third Sunday of Lent: Opting for the long view
Today’s readings: Exodus 3,1-8.13-15; 1 Corinthians 10,1-6.10-12; Luke 13,1-9.
Perhaps many of us can recall the struggles and debates in the past against militant atheists who fought harshly to prove that God simply does not exist. The response of the theists was a very rational presentation of what proves, even logically, the existence of God, and which was compiled in apologetics’ textbooks. Today we no longer build so much on such rational proofs and on a question-and-answer type of faith. Google would most probably be by far better equipped to provide these ready-made answers.
What today should be a paradigm for our faith is instead the Exodus account in the first reading. God not only exists but He enters history, time and space, and He is powerful enough to change the course of history. God, as we read, refuses to explain to Moses who He really was. Faith is not primarily about explanation, but about understanding.
In front of the burning bush, Moses had to take off his sandals, symbolising the unlearning we need to go through in the face of the mystery of God which is also the mystery of our own existence. Gregory of Nyssa, the 4th century Church Father, in his The Life of Moses, contemplates this scene and writes: “This is truly the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see Him”.
In today’s gospel account, Jesus is faced by an interrogating crowd. The same old and new questions that still haunt us to date: Why? Why me? Where is God in all this? Our inquisitive minds put God constantly in the dock, and rightly so, considering that on a purely human level the mind persists in seeking explanation.
On his part, Jesus, rather than giving answers, speaks instead of repentance. Repentance here means unlearning, taking off the sandals as Moses was asked to do in the presence of the mystery. Jesus tells the parable of a fig tree yielding no fruit and points to a God who is endlessly patient, who can wait, who never rushes us in our journey.
The image of a man cursed forever to hold the globe on his shoulders is one many of us may be familiar with. It is Atlas from Greek mythology who was given this severe punishment. Very often we fall prey to the temptation of wanting to save the world and the Church. We become convinced of seeing clearly what should be done in the country and in the Church and pretend to change things overnight.
The way we live makes it hard for us to have to wait, to tolerate anything that is slow. We are impatient and we prefer the microwave to the traditional oven. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, recently commented on this and recalled how the centuries-old rule of St Benedict has something very significant to tell us on this:
“When difficult things are commanded,” says St Benedict, “endure and do not grow weary”. Benedict cautions us to realise that we can’t rush life. Speed and pressure are becoming ingrained in our DNA. There are things that simply must be borne. In the face of global turmoil, of the impasse engulfing the Church at such a tragic point in time of its history, in the face of our desire to change things and bring justice, there are lessons we need to learn and there are also reasons to persist in waiting.
The alternative to this would not be growth or personal development, but more anger, frustration and the temptation to call it a day in whatever looks unsurpassable. “Leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it,” goes today’s gospel parable. Nothing really important, long lasting or profound happens quickly. Lent every year takes a whole 40 days to give us time to bear with patience the burden of visions envisioned but looking unreachable.
Being patient means giving yourself the time to develop the strength you need to see things differently, to develop the long view.