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Lent, Week 3. Sunday

The prayers, Readings and reflection offered here are for Lent 3. Click here for “Year A Readings” used when the Scrutinies are celebrated for the Elect. Use this same link for the meaning a reflection on the word metanoia, a word important in today’s Readings.


My eyes are always on the Lord, for He rescues my fet from the snare. Turn to me and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor (Psalm 25: 15-16).


COLLECT
O God,
Author of every mercy and of all goodness,
Who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.


RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
The Lord is kind and merciful. (Psalm 103: 8).


SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered (πεπόνθασιν) in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent (μετανοῆτε),
you will all perish (ἀπολεῖσθε) as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent (μετανοῆτε),
you will all perish (ἀπολεῖσθε) as they did!”
(Luke 13:1-5).”


REFLECTION
Popularly, they seem to be always joined in some form of question or inquiry: sin and suffering. Many people, faced with the unanswerable question of ‘why suffering,’ inevitably say something to the effect, ‘but s/he (or I) is (am) such a good person. Why would God cause this?’ Jesus Himself acknowledges peoples’ popular perception of suffering and sin in the uniquely Lucan reported events of the falling tower and mixing of sacrificial blood. Is Jesus giving an answer to the age-old question of ‘why bad things happen to good people?’ Yes and no ...



When Jesus asked about the suffering of the Galileans, He seems to imply that ‘things happen’ and does not give any further explanation. πάσχω (páschō) is the Greek verb that is translated into English as “to suffer.” Many biblical and linguistic scholars note that πάσχω originally described an event that happened in such a way so as to make an impression on a person. The event, generally speaking, was rather neutral in its significance and was always external; that is, someone/thing external to a person or community. Whether the event was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depended on how it was received by the person(s) involved. What πάσχω conveyed was simply something happening to you (individually or communally) and you had no control over the event. The fact that one had no control over the event contributed to the verb’s meaning eventually to include “suffering.”
What is interesting here is that Jesus acknowledges that ‘things happen.’ These happenings in the vast majority of cases are by no means neutral: they cause untold pain, devastation and death. Why? Jesus does not answer that question and in not answering it implies that these types of things can, do and will happen. So why does Jesus call for repentance (μετάνοια, metanoia)? Why jump from “suffering” to “repentance”? Does not such a leap reinforce the stereotype that all suffering is a result of sin?
Consider the parable that closes this Sunday’s proclamation. One aspect of the parable certainly focuses on growth. There is a reasonable expectation that a fig tree, especially after 3 years, will produce good fruit. For some reason, the tree has not produced fruit and is given another year, but only 1 additional year. In other words, the tree’s existence is fixed within the constraints of time. Not only does the farmer contend with the vicissitudes of the earth when it comes to crops and to trees, he does so within the limits of finite existence. Of course the farmer (and all of us!) would relish the thought that every seed planted would yield an abundant harvest. Yet despite our best efforts at care and cultivation there are events beyond our control that will definitely affect and effect the harvest.
So what do the mixed blood and falling tower have to do with μετάνοια (click here for a previous blog entry on μετάνοια)? Those 2 events, which in many respects are analogous for any number of events, point to the finite dimension of life this-side-of-the-grave. While a part of us wants a life and a world of perfection, we lost that “in the beginning” when we decided it was better to listen to something else rather than the life-giving Word of the Creator. More troubling for our lives though is that we want ‘a god (or gods!)’ that is able to wave a wand or sprinkle pixie-dust that magically makes everything better in an instant. Such is ‘a god’ of our creation and projection, not the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. While thoughts desire a self-created Shangri-La, Jesus is clear that we live an existence that is bounded by space and time for the purpose of being ‘in communion with His Father.’ This was and is the plan for each of us from that unique moment “in the beginning.” With the uncertainly of life, each of us exists in a particular place for a particular time to be ‘in communion with God our Father.’ While it is natural and easy to ask ‘why’ when things go wrong, μετάνοια is actually the response to ‘why’ as the ‘things that go wrong’ are a reminder, painful as they are, that our ultimate life and purpose is found within a community and relationship of Divine Persons. Engaging the ‘work’ of μετάνοια enables the false self to be cut away, making room to live freely as sons and daughters in the Son.