A Reading from the Book of Exodus (3:1-15)
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
(Psalm refrain to be sung by soloist and repeated by all)
Refrain: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord,
thirsting for you my God.
1 God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
2 Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
3 For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
4 So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
5 My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6 When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
7 For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (10:1-13)
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (13:1-9)
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION IN ALL OF OUR HEARTS, BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD! YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH. YOU ARE OUR REDEEMER.
The Holy Bible is an English teacher’s nightmare!
The Bible uses a great many pronouns and it is often unclear as to whom a pronoun refers; consequently, the meaning of the sentence is unclear. Sometimes one has to read and reread a passage to find out who the “he” is. The Bible is full of sentences that contain subordinate clause after subordinate clause—sometimes, four, five, or six ideas running together. Again, the meaning is unclear. Then, we have paragraphs where the writer finishes one idea and then switches to a totally different idea without any warning. Or, how does Idea A connect with Idea B?
Part of the problem with understanding scripture passages is the punctuation and paragraphing—ideas flow together. Some of this is caused by the way the original text was written. There was no punctuation. Sentences did not begin with capital letters and end with periods. Punctuation, ends of sentences, and paragraph divisions are editing tools that have only been in use for a few hundred years. They started to be widely used only after the advent of printing in the 1500’s. Until that time, most people did not read since there were no printed books.
Another problem with understanding Biblical passages is allusions to other stories that were common knowledge for the audience of that era–allusions that mean nothing to the 21st century reader. For the modern reader, not knowing these stories that the writers of the Bible is referring to, causes incomplete understanding. That is precisely what happens in today’s Gospel passage. What is this about Pilate mixing the blood of Galileans with the sacrifice? Did you know that eighteen men were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them? Jesus’s audience instantly understood; we moderns have to dig deep to understand the allusions and the message Jesus was passing on to them.
William Barclay was a twentieth century Scottish theologian and scholar who specialized in the New Testament. We turn to experts like him in order to understand Jesus’s underlying message. In the time of Jesus, Jerusalem had outgrown its water supply. Pilate had decided to build a new aqueduct system to bring water into the city; obviously, residents and visitors to Jerusalem approved of that. They did not approve of Pilate’s method of financing the improvement: Pilate wanted to take money out of the temple treasury to pay for the construction. Jews were up in arms that temple money should be taken and used in this way. Mobs gathered to protest. Pilate ordered his soldiers to dress as Galileans and to mingle with the crowds dressed as peasants, hiding their uniforms. Under their clothing, they carried cudgels rather than swords. The soldiers were to use the cudgels to disburse the mob; however, the soldiers treated the mob with a great deal more violence than Pilate intended. Blood was shed; members of the mob died. The blood of the dead was figuratively mingled with the money that they had given to the temple as part of their sacrifice.
The tower at Siloam was part of the new aqueduct system bringing water into the city. Apparently, some of the residents of Jerusalem who were deeply in debt worked on the aqueduct. They were paid for their work out of the temple money. Some of those not working on the aqueduct felt that these workers should be turning their money over to the temple, since the money actually belonged to the temple in the first place. Some of those not working felt that the workers were committing horrendous sin by taking the temple money.
That is the background that moderns need to know in order to better understand the passage in today’s Gospel. Part of the thinking that was prevalent then was that people who sinned were punished with bad things happening to them, the worse the sin, the worse the punishment. The thinking was that those who died when Pilate’s men broke up the crowd died a horrible death because they were so sinful. Jesus responded to that kind of thinking by telling them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you.” Then Jesus asked about those who died at Siloam, “Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.” Many Jews of that era had a very clear connection between sin and suffering. If a man sinned, God made him suffer.
The important part of Jesus’s message comes after, “No, I tell you.” “But unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” William Barclay says, “One thing is clear—[Jesus] foresaw and foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. He knew well that if the Jews went on with their intrigues, their rebellions, their plotting, their political ambitions, they were simply going to commit national suicide; Jesus knew that the Romans would step in and obliterate the nation; and that is precisely what happened. So what Jesus meant was that if the Jewish nation kept on seeking an earthly kingdom and rejecting the kingdom of God they could come to only one end.” The Jews of that era were more interested in taking care of themselves in the present world than they were in about preparing for their eternal future.
Is that true of us today? Aren’t we of the 21st century just as interested in taking care of ourselves in the present and the near future that we think we can control? Taking care of the present will make us happy now! We will take care of the eternal future later.
So when Jesus told his listeners in Jerusalem, “but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did,” He was talking to us, too!
We don’t like talking about “repenting.” We would rather that God simply forgives us for our sins. Is there a different between our repenting and God’s forgiving our sins? There is a huge difference. God’s granting forgiveness is a voluntary act on His part—an action based on His love for all of His children. We can do nothing to influence that action; His love is the reason—the only reason. We can standby and do nothing; God does all the work. That is easy for us.
Repentance, on the other hand, requires us to do something. We must act in order to repent. First, we have to acknowledge that we have sinned—sinned in, oh, so many ways.
“we confess that we have sinned against
you, opposing your will in our lives. We have
denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves,
and in the world you have created. We repent
of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf.”
Every phrase in that confession is packed full of meaning–each phrase wounds us deeply as we admit that that phrase describes our actions. It hurts us to admit that sin does enslave us, that we seem to have so little control in our own lives.
The last phrase, “the evil done on our behalf,” hits me very hard. It is easy to think of all the wars that others have fought and in which some died in order for us to maintain our freedom, or wars fought just to give us an economic advantage, like cheaper oil. It is easy to think of children working in sweatshops in other parts of the world—barely living—making products that we can buy at a cheaper price. It is easy to think of animals raised in conditions that would appall each of us—if we allowed ourselves to think about those conditions It is easy to think about the millions of acres of virgin rain forest that disappears each year—changing the balance of the world that God created. Millions of acres deforested—ruined—to satisfy man’s lust for comfort. But, I don’t want to trouble myself by thinking about those conditions today.
The first step of repentance is acknowledging that we have sinned against God and His creation—that each of us has a part in those wars, in those children working in the sweatshops, in the destruction of the environment.
There is another part of the definition of repentance that causes those who are penitent to do something. Webster’s defines repent in this way; “to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change your life for the better.” If a person is truly repentant, he is so grievously bothered by his actions that he decides that he wants to live life in a different way than that way which led him to be sinful in the first place. It takes a great deal of determination and action on our part to be repentant. It is much easier to be forgiven. But Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Jesus doesn’t tell us that it is easily to repent, but He tells us that it is necessary in order for us to live.
The problem with sin is that it separates us from the love of God; sin builds a wall between us and Him. That wall does not separate God from us; it separates us from being in His presence. It is a wall that we choose to build around ourselves, keeping God out. True repentance removes that wall, enabling us to connect once again with Him who created us in His image.
The season of Lent is intended for that wall that we have built around ourselves to fall down like the walls of the tower at Siloam. When our wall falls, it will not kill people like the walls at Siloam did. Our crumbling wall will do just the opposite. It will allow us to live more fully; it will allow us to live in the presence of God. Lent is a time for walls to come down because the words of today’s Psalm are at the core of each of our beings: “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you.”
God longs for our repentance. God longs for His work with us to bear fruit. In the second part of today’s Gospel, the owner of the fig tree wants to cut it down because it has not borne fruit in three years. However, the tender gardener wants to give it loving care for another year hoping that it will bear fruit. “Let it alone for one more year. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” God is eager for us to bear fruit; He lovingly gives us another chance. After a while, though, the deadwood is pruned.
I pray each of us has a Holy Lent.