REFLECTION FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
The Gospel of last Sunday (the Second Sunday of Lent) identified Moses as one of the two Biblical figures that showed up at the mountain of the transfiguration of the Lord. Keeping the image of the transfiguration in mind, one could see that Moses had a similar experience at the site of the Burning Bush. Let’s find out.
The passage from the Book of Exodus (3: 1-8a, 13-15) tells us that Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro the Priest of Median, when he encountered God at Horeb, the mountain of God.
The Burning Bush and Moses’ Transformation
First, Moses saw a burning bush which was not strange. However, the amazing thing was that the fire did not consume the bush. A contemporary description could be an artificial fireplace designed to give the impression of a burning fire.
What Moses saw was a real fire. The passage already tells us that the scene was a theophany (divine manifestation). However, the striking amazement of an unburnt burning bush made Moses advance closer. But God called his name, stopped him, and asked him to remove his sandals since he was standing on holy ground.
Going back to the Chapter before the current story, we learn that Moses ran away from Egypt because his murder of an Egyptian as a reaction to the oppression of his people became public. He wanted to fight for his people, but he lacked the divine strategy.
The burning bush encounter transformed Moses from a shepherd of the sheep of Jethro to the leader of the Exodus event.
From that same site of the burning bush, Moses had to remove his platform (represented by his sandals) and stand on God’s platform (the holy ground). Moses also learned that it is possible to burn without being burnt. Furthermore, he realized that God is ever-present ( I AM) in a time of need (Psalm 46:1). In short, Moses had a transforming encounter that changed him for life.
Burning but not being burnt
A critical search through the history of our Christian faith shows instances of people who started well and ended in disaster. Another way to put it is that they got burnt while burning for the Lord. It is important to note that such a situation is only possible when people refuse to remove their sandals or go back to them after removal at God’s command.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians (! Cor, 10:1-6, 10-12), St. Paul reveals that some ancestors who witnessed and enjoyed God’s graciousness in the desert had to face destruction because of their evil deeds.
Drawing from that instance, St. Paul warns the Corinthians not to take their faith practices for granted by wilfully engaging in despicable attitudes and dispositions. He concludes with a very instructive statement, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”
The above instruction fits our Lenten journey experience. But unfortunately, we can get carried away by the mere religious observances of Lent and forget the fundamental spiritual demands of the season.
For instance, we might be fasting while still accommodating sinful acts like quarreling, anger, gossiping, and other things we do not see as an offense against God. So significantly, what you do during your fasting is as important as your fasting.
The Fruitless Tree
The Gospel Reading (Luke 13:1-9) tells us about some people who came to Jesus with the news about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. That means they were killed while they were offering sacrifices.
The people had the unspoken conviction that those victims died because of their numerous sins. Replying, Jesus states that they were not greater sinners than other Galileans. He further instructs them directly, saying, “But I tell you. If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did”. Jesus goes further to use the tool of a parable to give more clarity to his statement.
A man had a fig tree in his orchard, but it could not bear any fruit for three years. The man intended to cut it down because it was wasting the space, but the gardener begged that it be given one more year with intensive care, but if it fails, it could be eliminated.
A tree occupied a space in the orchard for three years but failed to produce a single fruit. We understand from the narrative that this was an orchard of trees, but just one tree could not bear fruit. At this point, the tree received an additional year and care to make it fruitful.
Moving Forward: Bearing Enduring Fruits: A Lenten Challenge
We all are like trees in Lord’s orchard at baptism and have grown to maturity at our confirmation in the Holy Spirit. The purpose of being planted in the orchard in the first place is not to occupy a position but to be fruitful.
Are you fruitful or barren like that one tree that was singled out in the entire orchard be cut down? Like the gardener begged for an additional year, the Lord is giving us this Lenten season as a grace period to become fruitful. In the Gospel of John (15:16), Jesus says, “you did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruits; fruits that that will last.”
When the Lord comes around after the grace period of fecundity, will he find at least one fruit in us that would make him keep us standing, or shall we then qualify to be cut down. One of the possible ways to bear fruits is to open ourselves to pruning; that is, cutting away the undesirable parts that limit our productivity (John 15:2b).
May this season of Lent be ripe enough to give us the dependable foreground to burn for the Lord, grow, and flourish with enduring spiritual fruits.
God bless you.