LENT III: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; I Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9
Just before Christmas in 1985, we were shocked by an air crash in Newfoundland, Canada. That crash killed more than 200 American soldiers on their way home for the Christmas holidays. A few months later in 1986, we were stunned again by another national tragedy when the space shuttle Challenger exploded only 74 seconds after lift-off. Seven astronauts were killed in that catastrophe.
We know that tragic events can occur randomly and have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the victims. For example, a tornado that destroys a nightclub also destroys a Church. An earthquake or tsunami kills the saints as well as the sinners in the affected area. Drunk drivers kill innocent people. Religious fanatics, terrorists and suicide bombers cause the untimely deaths of good as well as of bad people. Violent people, with or without provocation, injure their loved ones. All of us have struggled to understand why tragedy seems to befall innocent people. What we need is to trust in Divine mercy, believing that God is with us and God is on our side, even in those situations we cannot explain. Jesus' life is the clearest evidence that a person's suffering is not a proof of that person's sin. While sin can lead to tragedy, not every tragedy is the result of sin. Although God is not responsible for causing tragedy, he is not a detached observer of our suffering. On the contrary, he is immersed in it with us, sharing to the full our particular grief and pain. This is the fundamental significance of the cross." "Every tragedy contains within it the seeds of resurrection." This is, after all, the whole point of our pilgrimage through Lent, to Good Friday, and Easter morning.
Today’s Gospel gives us two examples of shocking disasters that occurred in Christ’s lifetime. One of the incidents was the ruthless murder of some Galileans while they were in the middle of their Temple sacrifices. The victims were probably political agitators and this was Pilate’s way of silencing them. The other incident was a construction accident which occurred near the Temple during the building of a water aqueduct. Apparently this building project was hated by the Jews because Temple funds were appropriated by Pilate to finance it. These two incidents are brought up because the Jews of Jesus’ day presumed that those who were killed were being punished by God for their sins. But Jesus denies this. Instead, he asserts that what really destroys life is our unwillingness to repent and change our lives. Jesus says, not once, but twice by way of emphasis: “Unless you repent, you will perish as they did.”
All three of today's readings speak of God’s mercy and compassion in disciplining his children and in giving them a second chance in spite of their repeated sins. Although God’s love for us is constant and consistent, He will not save us without our co-operation. That is why He invites us during Lent to repent of our sins and to renew our lives by producing fruits of love, compassion, forgiveness, and faithful service.
The Jewish rabbis taught that repentance required five elements: recognition of one's sin as sin; remorse for having committed the sin; desisting from repeating this sin; restitution for the damage done by the sin where possible; and confession. “Confession" for the Jews had two forms: ritual and personal. Ritual confession required recitation of the liturgies of confession at their proper moments in the prayer-life of the community. Personal confession required individual confession before God as needed or inserting one's personal confession into the liturgy at designated moments. One who followed these steps was called a "penitent." In fact, Jesus invited his Jewish listeners to such repentance. Repentance implies not just regret for the past but a radical conversion and a complete change in our way of life as we respond and open ourselves to the love of God. Jesus calls us today to “repentance” - not a one-time change of heart, but an ongoing, daily transformation of our lives.
Never fail to read the signs of time and accept their message. Every calamity, every tragedy, every natural event has a message for us. It is a sign, a reminder that our time is limited and hence, repent and make ourselves socially useful.
We are unable to predict when a tragic accident may happen to us. Our end may come swiftly – without warning and without giving us an opportunity to repent. Repentance helps us in life and in death. It helps us to live as forgiven people, and helps us to face death without fear.
Lent is an ideal time "to dig around and manure" the tree of our life so that it may bring forth fruits. Like the fig tree that was given one more year of lease, we are given another chance to produce fruits.
Garrison Keillor warns us, "You can become a Christian by going to church just as about easily as you can become an automobile by sleeping in a garage." What we're speaking of is the danger of presumed spiritual security. Our parable says that we're not called just to be here. It is a clear warning against a fruitless existence in the light of God's grace given to us.
Our merciful Father always gives us a second chance. The prodigal son, returning to the father, was welcomed as a son, not treated as a slave. The repentant Peter was made the head of the Church. The persecutor Paul was made the apostle to the Gentiles. During Lent, we, too, are given another chance to repent and return to our Heavenly Father’s love. We are also expected to give others a second chance when they ask our forgiveness. Grace is everywhere. Let us always cooperate with grace, and not make God go tired of waiting for our conversion beyond this period of Lent.