Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 103:1-11; 1 Cor 10:1-12; Luke 13:1-9
Moses has fled Egypt in fear of his life and is tending his father-in-law’s flock when he has his first profound experience of God. God sends Moses to the Israelites and Moses’ calling card: ‘I AM sent me to you’. I am who am – God of the eternal present. God who is with us in every now.
As we continue our Lenten journey, it is possible that the realisation of our faults can become a little overwhelming. This is where the response in today’s psalm bears remembering: The Lord is kind and merciful. For the God that is always with us, we are always loved. That love doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up over our mistakes, real or perceived. Rather that love should liberate us to be and act as our best selves.
This notion is borne out in the Gospel. Rather than judging ourselves or others for human failings in some kind of final way, better to pay heed to the parable – hold off on a final judgment on ourselves and others. Better to feed ourselves spiritually and see if we bear fruit.
This begs the question: am I feeding myself spiritually and if so, how? There are all of the ways that easily come to mind in a religious context, such as prayer. But pursuing this idea of God being with us in every now – may we be truly present to ourselves and others in our relationships. Also, may we allow God’s grace to move us while in nature. It is a wonder and a miracle! But because it is always there, we may not allow ourselves to be touched by it.
When we feed ourselves spiritually, we will be closer to our best selves and more likely to hear God speaking to us.
As the Lenten journey continues which is done in a context of faith, it makes sense to pause and reflect upon my relationship with God. Honesty and openness in my relationship with God through prayer and contemplation is a grounding that allows me to be honest and open with myself and others.
This week’s readings give us several examples of faith. In the first reading Abram had already left his home in Ur to follow God and in the reading Abram is rewarded when the Lord makes a covenant with Abram and his descendants (who will be as many as the stars in a sky not affected by light pollution!). The responsorial psalm reminds us that ‘the Lord is my light and my salvation’ – rather than my obsessions, my addictions, the latest clothes or the latest gadget. Do I focus on giving and receiving love? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ shines a light on life’s path for us each to follow.
Our Gospel passage is that of the Transfiguration. In his typically gung-ho fashion, Peter wants to mark this important occasion. A cloud then envelopes Jesus, Peter, James and John and a voice says: ‘this is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him’. The disciples then fell silent as the enormity of what has just happened hit them – they have had an experience of God, both through the voice from the cloud and in the person of Jesus. In our time we need also to listen to Jesus: in prayer, in scripture, through the sacraments and through the people and events of our daily lives. Can you think of a moment of grace that stopped you in your tracks? God wants us to listen.
Part of being human means that one can feel beset by difficulties, not knowing what to do, to whom to turn. This is why the response in today’s psalm strikes a chord: ‘Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble’.
On this first Sunday we are near the start of our Lenten journey that ends in God’s triumph at Easter. So we know the end point – fullness of life – toward which we are all called. But how do I get there? This is what Lent is for. Firstly I need to become aware of my faults and failings. Then, rather than shrugging my shoulders and saying, in a somewhat resigned tone, ‘that’s me’, work on improving myself. As humans there can be a gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Which is why it’s great to have Lent, another opportunity to get closer to being my best self. Whether it’s being less controlling, more giving, more forgiving, less judgmental or whatever, it’s good for me to be better so that I don’t spread my unhelpful behaviours amongst others. My self-improvement is better for me and we.
Our Gospel today shows this process of self-improvement is part of God’s plan since ‘Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert’. God’s revelation at Easter doesn’t wipe away all human problems rather it shows us there is only one way – through the cross. This does not mean that God causes suffering. Humans frequently have a hand in causing suffering to others. Rather such suffering which is part of life is an opportunity to work through the pain and grow – to more closely resemble the best version of ourselves.
Politics seems comprised of the ‘photo opportunity’, concern over the ‘optics’ of a situation. As much as how things look is significant, what of the substance?
Such a situation seems to have been the case for a long time in human history which is why both the first reading and the Gospel encourage us to ‘look at the fruit’: ‘every tree is known by its own fruit’. Or as the first reading put it ‘our faults appear when we speak’. This should make us pause and reflect.
A greater awareness of my flaws is healthy – for me and everyone with whom I deal. When I am aware of my flaws I am in a better position to build community. And this is our salvation. The expression at the fraction rite of the Eucharist ‘may the body of Christ bring us to eternal life’ has multiple meanings. Yes, it refers to the Eucharistic species but it also refers to the community that gathers: we are saved in community, by community.
Salvation is not a prize for the ‘best person’. This is why Jesus disabuses those ideas by telling us in the Gospel to be aware of the plank in our own eye before we worry about the speck in anyone else’s eye i.e. we each need to get our own act together. Awareness of my failings saves me from myself, my limited view of the world and encourages me to lean on others and so build community.
A healthy community goes beyond how things look to providing for the needs of each in the community as well as sharing the community’s gifted news with others. That is substance.
‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’
This is a question a psychologist might ask if you find that your normal strategies aren’t working for you. You find yourself locked in a struggle with others.
In an echo of last Sunday’s readings and it is good to assume that humans don’t really get it the first time, the point is made that God does not see things the way humans do. We can be cut-throat, ‘what’s in it for me’, ‘look after your own’. Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel doesn’t just overturn things for his hearers 2000 years ago. It is still the dominant ethic.
We are told in the psalm that ‘the Lord is kind and merciful’. For those of us who wish to be described as a person of faith, a Christian, a Catholic, this begs the question: am I kind and merciful?
The first reading shows David acting in a merciful way when he could have killed Saul. (In fairness, if you read more of the books of Samuel you learn David didn’t always get it right!) How can we be kind and merciful? The gospel spells it out for us:
If we each spend time this week working on those, we will be easier to live with and be happier. As the gospel points out, suspending judgment, condemnation and being forgiving comes back to us, in good ways, by helping to create a community of kindness and mercy.
In so doing, we will be happy – and build communities through right relationships.
Hope seems pretty useful. The way our lives have been a rollercoaster these past two years – are we up or down? – you’d be forgiven for asking: Is anything stable? Is there anything that we can cling to?
As it regularly does, scripture helps give us a longer view. The Psalms that have stood 3000 years worth of famine, war and plague encourage us to ‘hope in the Lord’. This Sunday’s Gospel gives us Luke’s Beatitudes and woes. One can be inclined to write off the Beatitudes as pious-sounding, pie-in-the-sky stuff but Luke then hits privileged people, like me, ‘where they live’ by reminding us as Jeremiah did in the first reading that God doesn’t look at the world the way that humans do. God doesn’t care about status, power and control. God loves every human creation, indeed every part of creation.
‘Hope in the Lord’ can seem naive or simplistic. Yet, taking the long view is a way of riding the storm. Not getting too high or too low. Rather, each of us should focus on acting with love and justice and ask ourselves ‘how am I doing with that?’
But why love and justice? Because they build right relationships, they build community. They bring God who is love to the fore in everyone’s lives and so bring God’s reign closer. Thus by acting with love and justice we bring God closer – and so make hoping in the Lord a reality.