THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
Readings for this Sunday:
Isaiah 55:1-9| Psalm 63:1-8 | 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 | Luke 13:1-9
Let’s be clear. This is something to be mad about. This is something to be furious with. Pilate and his Roman legions were bad enough as it was. But did you hear about when he sent his soldiers into the temple and slaughtered our own as they were making their offerings at the altar? What could be more reprehensible? What could be more offensive? It’s an atrocity. There’s no other word for it.
We have our own stories too. We know all about atrocities. Especially in these days when up seems to be down and down is up. In Belfair, near Bremerton, five people are dead. Less than 24 hours earlier another shooting spree in Hesston, Kansas. A man killed three people and wounded 14 others before being shot by police. Last Sunday an Uber driver was charged with six counts of murder after a five hour gun rampage in Kalamazoo. That’s just this last week. And that’s just gun violence. And we’ve hardly hard about it because of this bizarre political season. And we haven’t talked about racial unrest or mentioned that women are still making 70 cents for every dollar men make for the same job.
The people that stand before Jesus are angry. And surely this is righteous anger. Jesus does not suggest otherwise. He does not tell those who listen that their oppression and their suffering is anything other than oppression and suffering. Things are tough. Injustice is everywhere. People are treated differently according to race and class and religion and background. They are under the thumb of Rome. No doubt about it. They live in an occupied territory that makes it hard even to breathe. There is no sugar-coating here. Things are a mess. So what does Jesus say, and how does he say it?
As I worked through the Luke reading for this morning, I wondered how Jesus should sound. Is he angry and impatient? (angrily)
“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.”
I suppose it’s possible, but I don’t think the story bears that out. Surely he is the gardener in the parable he spins next. He is the one asking for one more year for this fig tree to bear fruit. He is the one looking to tend it and give it what it needs to be fruitful. He is the one that sees the stunning beauty, the perfection, the possibility of this single yet-to-be fruitful plant he has spent so much time with. (pleading)
“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.”
Jesus flips a blame-the-other society on its head. We are not victims to a huge cruel world that cannot be changed. We have what we need to turn this thing around. We together have the capacity to create systems that work. We together have the ability to bless others. We together hold the promise of God’s abundance for all.
Jesus comes with a plea. The temptation to project our fear and our anger and our unsettledness toward anybody and anything that we can’t control is powerful and deadly. Our choices have consequences. Our fear can destroy us. Our anger can become our own downfall.
It is so enticing and so easy to spend our money on that which isn’t bread, and work for what doesn’t satisfy. But, as Richard Rohr reminds us, “If the Risen Jesus is the full and trustworthy unveiling of the nature of God, then we live in a safe and love-filled universe,” and, if “love is the source and goal, faith is the slow process of getting there, and hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”It begins with God, and it turns to us to draw from this hope the courage to look inwardly, trusting that within us is not death and hopelessness and despair, but the pure light of the Spirit of God that shines through any crack, any fissure, every brokenness.
One of my heroes, the great naturalist John Muir, once said, “The sun shines not on us, but in us.” The poet Maya Angelou went further: “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
Jesus tells the truth about the world he lived in. And we must do the same about our own world. It’s just that he will not have himself or those who come to him be defined by their enemies. He will not be drawn into the self-righteous anger of those around him as if we would be defined by anything other than the light of love that shines brightly within us.
It may be that our difficulty in telling ourselves the truth is that we’ve forgotten how to see ourselves through the absolute love of God.
We live in a day—not so unlike that of the atrocity-rumoring Galileans—when everyone wants to blame everyone else for the ills of the world. It seems to me we don’t have to look too hard these days to see examples of misplaced anger that defies all reason. The candidate, who has boasted about adulteries, praised Planned Parenthood and admitted to never asking for God’s forgiveness, is the favorite of the Christian right. This is not a reasonable response. This is about anger that has been manipulated by a con artist. This is what happens when we have lost the ability to look inwardly. “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
We know, of course, that truth is found by way of a long journey. And living in faith is to seek truth where it is found. The work of faith begins inwardly. How am I like that fig tree? What keeps me from bearing the fruit that is borne naturally out of a life with deep roots? If the light is within us, as Muir and Angelou claim, then it seems wise for us to look more deeply within when the world seems dark.
Confession is nothing more than an invitation to freedom that comes through honest self-assessment as we hold onto the light that is within and that surrounds us, shining on a safe and love-filled universe. We make a mistake when we give into the idea that we are nothing, worthless, shameful. But we also err when we fail to see that vulnerability, that courageous honesty about ourselves is the food that ultimately fills us. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
And we must be the type of community that makes safe space for our vulnerable hearts, that encourages us from week to week on this journey that leads to life.
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