Third Sunday of Lent – 20 March 2022
Lectionary Readings: Ex. 3:1-8. 13-15; Ps. 103:1-4. 6-8. 11; 1 Cor. 10:1-6. 10-12; Lk. 13:1-9
Theme: Merciful, Gracious, Steadfast Love.
The gospel passage for this Sunday is situated within Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9.51-19.41). Leaving Galilee, Jesus “resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem” (9.51); passing through Samaria (9.52), Bethphage and Bethany (10.38), then Jericho (18.35), he came in sight of Jerusalem (19.41). The intense tone of this journey is set in the earlier portion of chapter 9, by its rapid review of a series of events: the mission of the 12, Herod’s musing on the execution of John, the return of the 12, Peter’s profession of faith, the ultimatum in following Christ, the Transfiguration, and two brief but ominous declarations of Jesus’ awareness of his pending Passion (9.22, 9.44). The latter forebodings emerge again in 12.50 and yet again in 18.31-33, emphasizing the urgency of this period of Jesus’ instruction of the disciples. Six parables and three healings are briefly reported in these eleven chapters but, coming after the passage selected for this Sunday, they fail to provide relief from the intensity of Jesus’ solemn call to repentance in these nine verses of Luke’s chapter 13.
The two incidents in Jerusalem, at the temple and at Siloam, do not appear elsewhere in scripture nor in Josephus, yet Luke knew of them as did Jesus, who skillfully avoids attributing sin to those who suffer, but instead, weaves these incidents into a more extensive reflection on facile judgments vs compassion in situations of tragedy, inviting accountability and repentance, discernment and pastoral care. Jesus shifts attention from the deaths of Galileans and Jerusalemites to the prospect of perishing for all eternity, if one does not recognize one’s sins and repent. The poignant rendition of the parable of the fig tree is unique to Luke: standing fruitless and accused of wasting the soil, the fig tree is radically dependent upon the sensitive care of the gardener, an image of Christ, who staves off harm to the tree by offering a further season of more intense cultivation toward a more fruitful future.
In both Exodus and Luke, a divine summons is issued. Moses must remove his sandals because the place on which he stands is holy ground. Etz Haim elaborates: “remove from yourself everything that would keep you from identifying with the suffering of your people” (p. 328). In Luke 13:2 and 4, Jesus demands, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than others? Unless you repent, you will perish.” These calls to conversion are further qualified by the Corinthian passage that urges us to learn, from our ancestors in faith, that the graces of election and revelation support, they do not remove, our personal responsibility. Psalm 103 resets these readings in a celebration of God’s merciful, gracious, and steadfast love.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1) How have you seen the parable of the fig tree fulfilled in your own life? 2) Have you ever experienced a “divine summons”? Describe that experience. How did you respond?
Bibliography: Brown, R. E. et al., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990); Levine, A-J. and Brettler, M. Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford U. Press, New York, 2017).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006