The Journey Gets Stark

24 March 2019 – Third Sunday in Lent

Three-quarters of the way through Lent, the scripture readings bear down on us, calling us to examine the extent to which we have taken seriously our Lenten path. The scriptures implore us: listen, seek the Lord, watch out, repent, for “with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

The preacher might ponder offering a description of God’s promise of endurance so firm and palpable that the assembly is eager to listen, seek, and watch out. –– Melinda Quivik

Luke 13:1-9

It is easy to forget how the Gospel claims an urgent response from its hearers. Not only are we to “seize the day,” we are to “repent and bear good fruit.” The urgency is driven home in the parable of the barren fig tree. God forbears. God is always forbearing, like the vineyard owner who spared a non-producing fig tree. It is an expensive proposition, really, to allow nonproductive plants to persist in one’s garden. Better to prune the dead wood, so that the fruitful trees can prosper.

The point is even more urgent than the simple agricultural metaphor suggests. Luke introduces the story with uniquely Lucan material: the reference to horrific deaths and unjust fates. As bad as these deaths were, Jesus says, they do not compare to the fate that awaits those who are obstinate in their sin. The Galileans did not deserve their suffering, but they suffered. If there is a God and if God is just, then those who are evil must face a fate worse than theirs. The sayings continue Jesus’ teaching on theodicy and place it in the context of an eschatological immediacy. –– Jeffrey VanderWilt

Isaiah 55:1-9

God made David a “witness to the peoples.” In a kind of trickle-down effect, the combination of God’s love for David and the mercies of David toward the people means that the nation as a whole will be a sign to the world. God’s love for the nation and the mercies of the Israelite nation toward the nations means that the nations too will come to know God and glorify God because of Israel. Therefore, those within Israel who are having difficulty following the way of God, should call on God, forsake their wicked ways and seek righteousness, not “spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy” (v 2). –– Jeffrey VanderWilt

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Paul extends his discussion of communion in Christ (koinonia) by remarking on its implications and consequences. We need only look as far as the scriptures to see communion in action. The Israelites were all together in the events of the Exodus: they were led by God, passed through the sea, ate manna and quail in the desert. They drank from the same rock. These were, Paul suggests, some kind of protosacraments, for they all have their counterpart in Christian worship: baptism, Eucharist, and scripture. These protosacraments, just as our own, united God’s people: all ate, all drank, and nonetheless some sinned, but many were “struck down” as an example for later generations—including the last one, as Paul thought of his people.

If the Corinthians are being tested (and Paul says they are: by sexual immorality, by idolatry, by complaints and grumbling) they are being tested in common, in communion. The communion is being tested, but not beyond their strength. After all, they have the cautionary example of the ancient Israelites to guide them, the exhortation of Paul to make that example clear, and the Spirit of Christ to empower them to live in his unity. –– Jeffrey VanderWilt

Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.

Homily Service 40, no. 4 (2007): 13-22

David Turnbloom