The sense of sight can be said to be the most exciting of all the external senses. We always wish to see and to see clearly. Even after hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting, we often still demand to see and to see closely. Notably, whatever we see can either build or destroy us; it can lead us onto the right path or onto the wrong path. Most people lost their lives while trying to see more and more like a certain woman who was killed by a stray bullet when she came out of her shop to have a closer look at an armed robbery scene at a nearby bank! The eye itself which is the primary organ for the sense of sight remains a window through which many things get into our minds.
In the First Reading today (Ex.3:1-8a.13-15), we recall Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. The background is that Moses fled to the land of Midian when his fight for the liberation of his people (the Hebrew race) turned against him (Ex. 2:11-15). It often happens in life that often your help or assistance can be misunderstood by the beneficiaries. In the land of Midian, he got favour from Jethro the priest after delivering his daughters from the hands of some shepherds who tried to stop them from getting water for their sheep. (Ex.2:16-18). From this protective and intercessory disposition, his status changed. In Egypt, he was rejected and made an out-law for trying to help his people but in Midian we was accepted and made an in-law for the same act of helping. Often times, we fail to understand that our condition of life today will not be the conclusion of our life; we need to stay in the game!
The land of Midian was not where God wanted Moses to spend the rest of his life. There is always a divine purpose for our life but there must be a starting point which may not be the ending point. The land of Midian was for Moses a place of learning, a place of preparation in view of the work of liberating the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land from being out-laws to being landlords. Moses fled from Egypt at the age of forty. Forty years later God called him to go back to Egypt in view of liberating the people he (Moses) wanted to set free forty year ago. It is only at the divinely appointed time that true liberation can come. It is not by power nor by might but by God able Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
Before the encounter proper, Moses was at his employment; namely leading the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. He led the flock to the west side until he came to the mountain of the Lord (Horeb) where he had the most awesome encounter with the divine presence. This is reflective of our lives. We can only encounter God when we go in His direction. The west side here is the path that leads to God and to divine encounter. The call of the Lenten period is for us to advance towards the west side; the way that leads to Horeb.
Now at Horeb (or Sinai) the mountain of the Lord (the same place he would later receive the Ten Commandments (Ex.20:5ff). Something very spectacular happened. Moses saw a bush burning; which was not unusual, but the extraordinary thing was that the bush was not consumed by the fire. The primary duty of fire is to consume anything that it comes in contact with. The situation here was different; the bush was burning but was not consumed.
This could adequately serve as one of the outstanding wonders of the world; a burning but unconsumed bush. It could have been a deeply interesting sight to behold. However spectacular it was for sight, it was not mere entertainment for the Jewish shepherd. More than that, it was a theophany; that is a divine manifestation. It was particularly a divine manifestation with a divine message. We shall see in what follows the difference between the divine appearance and the divine message; the religious tree and the spiritual fruits.
Moses saw the bush burning without being consumed and he decided to go nearer to see why the bush was not consumed. On the process of getting nearer, he heard a voice calling his name from the burning bush: “Moses Moses!” It is remarkable to know that God called him by name. Of course God knows you (Jer.1:5) and your name is written on the palms of his hands. (Isaiah 49:16). There is power in name. It shows recognition more than anything. God recognized Moses and everything that concerns him (Ps.138:8).
Next, Moses was asked to remove his shoes as he was standing on a holy ground and he went further to hide his face realizing the fact that he was before the presence of the Almighty God and nobody sees Him and lives (Ex.33:20). Shoes are used to protect soles of our feet from direct contact with the ground which might be dirty, rocky, hot or cold. In essence, shoes give protection to the soles of our feet. Standing before God Moses was asked to remove his shoes because there is no protection that is greater than that which comes from the Holy One before whom he was standing.
We are very much like Moses. Within these forty days of Lent we have been asked to climb the mountain of the Lord by looking up, giving up, taking up and lifting up. Like Moses who was asked to remove his shoes, we have been asked to put aside our material comforts and to rely on God as our sure platform. We are reminded like Moses that we are standing on a holy ground (the Holy Season of Lent). As Moses hid his face, we are called to hide our faces and disconnect from sin and indeed all evil.
At the instance of the divine encounter, came the divine message. The mission to go and liberate the people of Israel from their captivity and slavery in Egypt. At this point Moses wanted to know whom the messenger is and God told him that he should tell the people that “I AM” sent him. There is no better description at this point than this. I am stands for the one who is present and continuous to be present. It stands for the one who has no expiration. “I am” means God that is and He will continue to be.
Now turning to the mission, Moses was asked to go to Egypt to bring about the liberation of the people. This was a mission that warranted bearing of fruits. The Lenten period is our time of reclaiming the grounds, of planting of seeds that would die, germinate, grow and bear fruits. This brings us to the gospel episode of today which among other things tells us about the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:1-9).
During the time of our Lord Jesus Christ people believed that those who died through accident were just paying for their sins. With this in mind, some people came to Jesus to tell him about some Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices. They were like saying: “their numerous sins caught up with them”. Jesus Christ had a contrary view. For him they were not the worst of sinners. He even reminded them also that the eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam collapsed were not also the worst of sinners.
The discussion above provided an opportunity for our Lord Jesus Christ to instruct the people about the need to make use of the opportunity one has to repent and come back to God or face the penalty of perishing. Our Lord in his typical way adopted a parable to establish his point vividly. He thus spoke about a barren fig tree that could not bear fruit after three years and which the owner wanted to cut down but the vinedresser counseled that it be given one more year wherein it will be given more attention by the vinedresser for it to bear fruit and if it fails then it will be destroyed.
For three years a fig tree was occupying the ground without bearing fruits. The number three is known biblically as representing completeness. Hence the fig tree had a complete life circle that should be productive of fruits; it was really time up for it to go. But there comes the vinedresser begging for it to be given one more year. The vinedresser here represents our Lord Jesus Christ who came to reconstruct and redefine our lives so that we can in turn bear dependable fruits. By his life passion, death and resurrection we are being given another chance.
Often in life we have burning bush experience when we hear the word of God that strikes us in a very personal way. Sometimes we experience things that show us the other side of life; the nothingness of this world. Sometimes we are wowed by certain situations and circumstances that we, like Moses, go down on our kneels and feel our limitations and need for God. The question that follows is: “what happens afterwards?” Beyond the religious tree God seeks to see spiritual fruits.
What happens in your life after hearing a powerful sermon, what becomes of your life after getting instruction from God at Mount Horeb? Do you go back wandering in the desert of sin or do you change your direction like Moses from Median to Egypt. Do remain unmoved or do you go ahead to bear good fruits.
There is a relationship of cause and effect between the burning bush and the fig tree. At the burning bush we are given instructions to work with upon encountering the presence of God and at the fig tree we are expected to bear fruits corresponding to the instructions we already received.
The burning bush is the region of God’s presence where helpful instructions are given and should be received. We notice that the fire did not consume the bush. That fire represents God’s love that does not destroy us but moves us to bear fruits. It represents God’s burning love to have us saved by giving us another chance, another year to improve on what we have not done well. It is that love that inflames us to get the spiritual manure for fruitfulness.
Imagine if you have one more year to live like the fig tree had one more year to prove itself. Imagine if it has been certified by heaven and earth that this will be your last Lenten period as it has turned out to be for some people dying around us at the moment. Most of us will likely shout: “God forbid!” But the truth remains that not all living around the world this time would live to see Lent of next year. If this happens to be your last year what effort would you make to bear good fruits (Matt 7:20).
Looking back at your life, you may have had a fruitless past but there is a chance for a fruitful future. God’s burning love is patiently waiting for us; slow to anger abounding in kindness (Psalm 110:11).God does not need religious trees, but spiritual fruits (Gal.5:22). What Jesus said also applies to us: “unless we repent we shall as well perish!”
Do have a rewarding Third Sunday of Lent. Continue to Look Up, Give Up, Take Up and Lift UP this season.