Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

1st Reading – Exodus 3: 1-8A, 12-15

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12

Gospel – Luke 13: 1-9

Note:  The First Scrutiny in preparation for those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil is celebrated on this Sunday.  The Ritual Mass for that purpose uses the readings from Cycle A.

We often seek the meaning of scripture by using the context of the time in which the words were spoken.  Our society, culture, traditions, language, and laws have changed dramatically since Jesus’ time on Earth.  However, this gospel is as relevant today as it was when Jesus uttered the words more than 2,000 years ago. 

Jesus was told the story of Pilate’s murder of some worshippers and of an apparent accident that killed many other people.  There is no other record of these events in the Bible, and some scripture theologians believe they didn’t happen. Apparently, fake news is an old story.  The fact of these events is irrelevant to Jesus (and to us for that matter).  Jesus seizes the opportunity to preach and teach.

The Jews at that time believed the circumstances of your life were a reflection of your moral character.  If they died horrible deaths, they must have done something to deserve the fate.  If good things were happening to you, it was a result of your worthiness or righteousness.  If bad things were happening, then you must be full of sin and therefore being punished by God.  The people asking these questions were setting up Jesus.  If he says nothing, He would be considered insensitive.  If he speaks out (against Pilate’s actions) he could be arrested.  But Jesus steers the conversation away from politics and towards personal sin.  He tells His listeners, instead of pointing fingers at the government or passing judgment, look at yourselves in the mirror.  Jesus implicitly explains they are using false logic.  Being killed or staying alive are not indicators of worthiness.  Everyone is called to repentance.  Everyone. 

In the second portion of the gospel, Jesus tells a story about a tree.  A mature fig tree in the Mediterranean area could be expected to have fruit approximately 10 months out of the year.  When you planted a new tree, it took three years to bear fruit.  Then, you’d have to wait another 3 years to avoid the “forbidden fruit” as mentioned in Leviticus 19:23.  The fruit of the tree in the 7th year would be offered to God.  After that, it was all yours.  So, a barren tree that has been in the ground for 9 years is really just wasting space.  It was unproductive and, seemingly, costing vital nutrients from the land.

There are two solutions: dig it out (judgment) or let it alone (forgiveness).  The impatient landowner is quick to pass judgment and wants to get rid of the tree, but the gardener sees the protentional value.  With just a little work the gardener is hopeful of a transformation.  All fig trees need water, food, cultivation, and occasional pruning.  He suggests a second chance at redemption.  The gardener is merciful.  Notice that he says, “If not, you can cut it down.”  (The gardener won’t do it.)

Just like the assembled people listening to Jesus words as he spoke them, we need to worry about ourselves.  We cannot be concerned with other people’s sin or even their accomplishments and productivity.  We must all remember there is both good and evil that exist in both the protestors and the oppressors and we are among both groups.  The story reminds us to pause and reflect before passing judgment on a situation.  Our first impression of events may not be the full story, and it is certainly not the end of the story.  We need to demonstrate this with not only those events around us, but the good and bad things that happen to us as well.  We never know when our time will come, but the Gardener is merciful.  God is patient, but we need to get busy bearing fruit.

Reflection Questions:

 1.    Do I believe that God punishes me or others for their sins?

2.    Am I quick to condemn others (or myself) when I encounter bad circumstances?

3.    Do I believe everything I see and hear in the news or read on the internet?

4.    What fruit am I called to bear?

The RCIA used readings from Cycle A for this week, so there is no handout available.