Sunday Sermon for March 24, 2019, the Third Sunday in Lent, Year C
Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9
In the readings today we hear about both the justice and the mercy of God. The first reading is all about God’s mercy. The people of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years, but in that time they had grown from 70 people to 600,000. By nature they would not have wanted to leave, even though they had been promised a land of their own. They knew the culture, they knew the language, they knew the people. Even if God had come to them in some extraordinary way the people would not have wanted to leave.
For this reason God allowed a Pharaoh to be raised up who feared the Israelites. Rather then forcing them to leave the country, the Pharaoh decided to force them into slavery. Even this the Israelites adjusted to, even though they did not like it. We all know the story of how they preferred to remain as slaves with their melons and fleshpots rather than be free people on their way to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, human nature has not changed.
God appeared to Moses and sent him to tell the Israelites God had heard their pleas and was going to rescue them. The Lord loved His people so much that He even revealed His Holy Name to Moses. He did not want merely to be God in the objective sense; He wanted to be in a relationship of love with the people He had chosen for His own. God’s mercy arranged everything so the people would want to leave Egypt, to know the love of God, and to be His people.
St. Paul describes the mercy God showed to the people of Israel in the desert after they left Egypt. They were all baptized into Moses, they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. God provided for them in miraculous ways, but the people obstinately refused to give up the gods of Egypt and they longed to return to their slavery. Consequently, most of them never entered the Promised Land because of their disobedience.
St. Paul then speaks of the justice of God and tells us all these things happened as examples for us that we might not desire evil things and fail to trust in God’s providence as the people of Israel. St. Paul warns us not to grumble and not to think ourselves secure, because we could fall very easily.
In the Gospel our Lord also speaks to us of the justice and mercy of God. He begins with examples of the tragic deaths suffered by some people in Galilee and in Jerusalem. He then instructs the people that those who suffered these injustices were by no means greater sinners than anyone else in those areas, and reminds His listeners that they too are sinners like those who perished. In case they missed the point, Jesus states clearly: “if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.”
We recall the teaching of our Lord that anyone who sins becomes a slave to sin. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we sometimes become comfortable with our sins; we would rather be slaves to sin than enjoy the freedom of the children of God. In His mercy, God did not send merely a messenger to us as He did for the Israelites when He sent Moses. Instead He came to us Himself to free us from our slavery to sin.
As He did with the Israelites, God has perfectly arranged everything for us because He knows we might prefer our slavery to sin over our freedom in Christ. He knows we might be so short sighted that we would prefer the sinful pleasures of this world instead of the perfection of eternal life. Like the fig tree in the Gospel, in His mercy the Lord is willing to give us another chance. His cultivation and fertilization might seem like what He did so the Israelites would want to leave Egypt. His mercy is there for us, as it was for the Israelites; they rejected His mercy and perished without entering the Promised Land.
We have been baptized into Jesus; we have eaten the spiritual food of His Body and drank the spiritual drink of His Blood. Baptism offers the promise of eternal life and the Holy Eucharist is the food of eternal life. We have everything we need to leave our sins behind and embrace the life of grace. The choice is ours. God gave us a free will, so He will not interfere in our use of it. Because God is just, He will always respect the choices we make, even if we choose not to repent. Because He is merciful, He will give us the opportunity to repent and enter the true Promised Land, eternal life.