Third Sunday in Lent
7 March 2010
Lent 3C (RCL)
1 Corinthians 1-:1-13
Not long after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, one of the radio evangelists (I think it was Pat Robertson) blamed the devastation on the deal that the Haitian people had made with the devil. He was refering to the purported use of voodoo, or that strange mix of Christianity and African religion. Evidently, according to him, the Haitian slaves had used voodoo to help through off the French colonial government. The earthquake was punishment for that mephistophelian deal. Some people come to Jesus and tell the story of eighteen Galileans whom Pilate had killed, probably during Passover. Jesus asks, “So, do you think they were worse sinners than other Galileans (who came to Jerusalem for the feast)?” And then he says something that just arrests us. “No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will also perish.” The need to blame people for their own suffering is a way of saying, “It can never happen to us.” We never made a deal with the devil, we don’t practice voodoo, and since this earthquake is God’s punishment for voodoo, such a thing will never happen to us.” Jesus doesn’t even engage the question whether this is sound theological reasoning or not. He just goes straight for the fear. You think you’re safe? Think again. It could happen to you. And so, repent, retrain, rethink the way you’re living your life. How would you want to be living if you thought this might happen to you?
Jesus then asks about a natural disaster (rather than one cause by Pilate). The tower of Siloam fell and killed 18 — that’s like the earthquake. It’s not punishment, but it could happen, so repent, rethink, retrain. And then comes that wonderful parable of the fig tree. Matthew and Mark also have a fig tree, but in a very different way: In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus passes a fig tree on his way into Jerusalem to teach in the Temple. It has no fruit, and he is upset, even thought it isn’t the season for figs, so he curses the tree. Then, in the Jerusalem, he cleanses the Temple. On the way out, the disciples see the fig tree withered, and Jesus tells them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could say to this mountain (Zion?), be cast into the sea, it would obey. Then, just in case we missed the point, Mark has Jesus tell the parable of the vineyard and its tenant, who refuse to give the fruit to the owner, who will destroy those tenant. The fig tree is an allegory for Israel/Jerusalem, and explains the Temple’s destruction. (Mark 11 and 12).
Luke moves the parabe away from the Temple act, and changes it substantially. Here the vineyard owner is impatient with the tree for its fruitlessness, but the gardener urges patience and care. Luke is much more tolerant of post-Temple judaisms than was Mark. For us, the gardener is tolerant of our fruitlessness, and helps dig in the manure (the bad stuff) of our lives to help us be fruitful.
So, Lent is a time of digging manure in those fruitless areas of our lives. In the OT reading, Moses encounters the burning bush, and God has him remove his shoes. Kids love to run barefoot, especially in the mud, to be in contact with the holy. Grownups, not so much. When God says he has heard the distress of his people, and will send Moses to free them, Moses says, “Who am I?” That question reflects a kind of false humility (which is really arrogance). I can’t do this, implies, I should be the one to do this, if only I were up to it, I would do it. When Moses asks God who he should say sent him, God replies, “I AM.” This is not about you, Moses, it’s about God. When God asks us to do something, and we say we can’t, we are suggesting that we know better than God.
Lent is about stripping away what separates us from the divine, the shoes that come between us and the holy, and accepting God’s estimation of our abilities, rather than our own. On Maundy Thursday, we take off our shoes to have our feet washed, an incredibly intimate act. The holy is known to us through the intimacy of community, through the digging in the manure, so that we can be fruitful.