Lectionary Reflection: Lent 3

Is 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; Luke 13:1-9; I Cor 10:1-13

“My ways,” the Lord says, “are not your ways.” Indeed, they are not. Jesus finds himself confronted with horrendous evils, “evils the experience of which,” as Marilyn Adams puts it, “threaten to make us doubt our lives are worth living.” The Romans have slaughtered some Jews, even as they were worshiping the One whose promises, amidst the occupation, are so hard to believe. A tower, without warning and apparently at random, has fallen in Jerusalem, ending suddenly the lives of eighteen women and men who never would have guessed as they went about their lives, work and play, that this day would be their last. Evil – moral and natural – cries out for explanation. And the temptation, then and now, in the face of such suffering is to diagnose, to try to read off tragedy’s inscrutable, relentless face just what exactly it is that God is doing in letting it come to pass.

There will always be those ready with an answer. But, at least here, such answers are words not of life, but death. They purchase the comfort of clarity at the price of truth. And they threaten to scar the souls of the mourners still more deeply, even as they insulate the rest of us from grappling with a suffering that would, if we let it, force us to consider our common fate. Elsewhere, Jesus will weep with sisters at the death of his beloved friend, even as he knows with certainty what will come, soon and at the end of all things.

But here he rebukes. More, he threatens. “Turn from your sin – sin which is common to those who die today and those who die tomorrow – while you still can.” The fate he would have us avoid, it seems, is death in our impenitence – which death, in its utter finality and destructiveness, is, in the most shadowy (but still piercing) way, mirrored by the horrors that have just befallen Jerusalem. The axe has been at the root of the tree at least since the Gospel’s third chapter, with John’s proclamation. It will be there, we are told, just a little longer.

In the meantime, what really can we imagine will change? What will go differently if it hasn’t by now? No one, much less the promised nations, are coming running.

But here in our midst is one for whom God’s love really is better than life, who bears fruit worthy of repentance. Even so, it is on him that the axe will finally fall. And those who will drink and eat the body and blood he gives without money or cost – even as it costs him everything; those whose roots will drink the water that pours from him – as rod strikes and he cries out in thirst; will, by his gifts, like him bear fruit, like him bless nations.

Let us, then, even as we look to cross in this season, “eat what is good and delight ourselves in rich food.” For his ways, Jesus Christ be praised, are not our ways. But, Jesus Christ be thanked, our ways can become his ways.

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