We are back after a brief hiatus - I never promised a weekly blog, and there are dry and stale moments through which we need to navigate. That said...
The texts for Lent 3 can be found by following this link.
Though not immediately obvious, all three of our texts this week reveal a fundamental truth about life and death and God, and what Jesus sought to reveal to us.
We have noted before that we live in a culture that is focused on death, either as something from which we flee or that we rush toward and embrace in destructive ways for ourselves, but mostly for others whom we fear. Sometimes it takes someone from outside that culture – someone with a different perspective – to see what we cannot see about ourselves. A quote from James Alison “Only someone who has not received his identity from a culture that is bound in by death can see clearly the way in which the whole culture is wrapped around by death. It is in this sense that Jesus was able to understand with perfect clarity the way that human culture, including the culture in which he lived, is produced by, and runs towards, death.” (Raising Abel, pg. 59)
Jesus lived his life in a way, then, that was not defined by death, that is, not fleeing from it or rushing towards it as we would, but in a wholly other way, since he understood that the reality of God is something which death is not. (We’ll get to this in a minute in Exodus). It was because death, then, did not dominate his thought or warp his imagination or vision in any way, that he could imagine a different reality that was entirely built on the creative and life-giving presence of God.
God’s love for us, then “is the love by which Jesus was empowered as a human being to create for us — which means to understand and imagine and invent for us — a way out of our violence and death. The traditional pieties attached to the cross fade – a pleased God is not present there to accept a sacrifice which wipes out our sins; nor is the horrified God there who cannot believe – as the parable goes – how we are mistreating the Son, and man, there is going to be hell to pay. Instead, God – for whom there is no death – is present as the source of love and forgiveness which just might bring us closer to the possibility that we can overcome death and the stranglehold that it has upon us and everything we do.
Exodus 3: 1 - 15
So, then, the key phrase in here is the one that God uses to describe him/herself: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” No hint that God’s love and presence with those named had changed or diminished in any way. God is these things, not was.
Interesting to reflect on the removal of sandals. I like to think of all ground as holy. It is capable of nourishing life which underscores the imagery of the fire which does not consume the bush. It does not harm that which provides food, shelter, nourishment, etc. So the call to remove his sandals was to Moses an invitation to remove the barrier between himself and nature, and to let his feet sink into the good earth beneath those feet.
1 Corinthians 10: 1 - 13
Once again, not really sure how this gets paired with the other two save that it brings into play the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness with Moses – the prelude for which we get in the Exodus text – and the call to repent and embrace the possibilities of new life, which awaits us in Luke.
Luke 13: 1 – 9
Two stories of untimely – and deserved? – death, and a parable about a fig tree. Luke doesn’t waste time. Ever.
We open with the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices… One source says that there is no historical record of this and Pilate actually plays favorably in the early traditions. But, it’s not out of the question that the Romans from time to time did like to remind the Jews who was in charge. The dispute here is really about agendas. His fellow Jews are trying to get him to focus on the Roman problem, and Jesus is trying to re-focus them on the deeper, larger questions. Did they suffer like this because they were worse sinners? – this is how first century Jews would have brought order to a random world – certain people suffer bad things because they are out of favor with God. Jesus will have no part of that thinking, either.
Unless you repent… literally, a change of heart and mind… you will perish as they did. What he is getting at is moving away from the sacrificial machinery that generated violence. Culture of death thing again. Unless they change their way of thinking – that blood is required to appease the gods about this and that – they would perish by that system as well.
Same idea with those who were under the tower that fell. These are accidental deaths – not as sacrifice, not in battle – but meaningless; meaning that the lives had no meaning, that they came to naught. Death has no meaning = life has no meaning. More thinking here that needs to change. Life is never meaningless, but full of possibility (again, the possibility that we can imagine a different way of living that is not defined by death – accidental or sacrificial.)
The parable of the fig tree – a passion prediction of sorts, but also ties us back to the meaning of the cross, that it reveals who God really is and opens the possibility that we can overcome death and the paralyzing grip it has on our thoughts and actions.
I like Gil Baile’s take which goes something like this:
The tree represents the biblical promise to Israel. It is not bearing fruit. The prophets have died out, the pharisees are hardening arteries, etc. Nothing new here.
God says to cut the tree down. Start over. Maybe as Buddhists. Jesus – the gardener- asks to give it one more year so he can work the soil and put down manure. He says this while on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus knows that nothing will be clear until after the cross, which is precisely what the tree in the parable is. And, the fruit it might bear is the revelation that… humanity just might be able to overcome death and the paralyzing grip it has on our thoughts and actions. We can have that change of mind and heart… it could happen.