Repent or Perish

Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 3:1-8A, 13-15

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the LORD said, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

1 Corinthians 10:1-6,1-12

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.

Luke 13:1-9

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 in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish 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, you will all perish as they did!” And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

God’s mysterious name, “YHWH”, a 4-letter Hebrew word, or “Yahweh” with vowels added for pronunciation, means “I am He who is” (CCC 206). It reveals God’s primary attribute: a pure Being who simply “is”; a Being whose existence gives rise to all things; “and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). This awesome mystery that explains my consciousness, breathing, and writing in this moment – and your consciousness, breathing, and reading – is somehow revealed to Moses in the burning bush in this Sunday’s first reading.

The ancient Israelites did not take this biblical encounter between God and Moses lightly. Well aware of their privilege of receiving this revealed truth, Israel venerated God’s holy name as absolutely sacred. So much so they would refrain from saying it directly, choosing to address God as “Adonai” (HB), or “Kyrios” (GK), which is translated as “Lord” in English (CCC 209). (Therefore, when the New Testament writers refer to Jesus as “Lord”, it is effectively a recognition of his divinity, i.e. Jesus is God Himself (CCC446).) What is more, the Day of Atonement was the only day in the year during which the Jewish high priest was allowed to utter God’s holy name, Yahweh, and then only inside the Holy of Holies (Thomas Lane, “The Catholic Priesthood”, p.38).

Connected to Israel’s veneration of God’s holy name is also a long history of its close encounters, interactions, and covenants with God. Yahweh is “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:15); Israel is God’s Chosen People who are “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” according to this Sunday’s second reading.

Being God’s people chosen from among all nations is a special blessing. But if the blessing is not received well, it can turn into a curse. This is the warning underlying Jesus’ parable in this Sunday’s gospel. Israel is the fig tree planted by God in a special orchard (Jer 8:13, Hos 9:10). It is expected to bear fruit. What fruit? The fruit of repentance. As God’s “first born son” among all nations (Ex 4:22), Israel has failed to do what God asked of it: becoming “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Not only that, now that God has sent them their long-awaited Messiah, Israel, ever “a stiff-necked people” like its ancestors, refuses to receive him (Ex 32:9).

For its failures and hardness of heart, Israel deserves nothing better than being cut down like a fig tree that bears no fruit. But God’s mercy knows no bounds. As the Responsorial Psalm reminds us, “The Lord is kind and merciful” (Ps 103:8). Despite Israel’s impenitence, God will leave the tree “for this year”, hoping “it may bear fruit in the future” (Lk 13:9). One last chance, in other words. Result? Sad to say, Jesus’ warning was left unheeded. In 70 A.D., soon after Jesus’ death, Israel’s sins finally caught up with it. Jerusalem had to suffer a devastating massacre and destruction at the hands of the Romans. Its Temple was completely burnt down and all sacrifices ceased. Repent or perish (Lk 13:5). Jesus meant every word he said.

Posted: March 24, 2019

Edmond Lo

As a Catholic speaker, writer and RCIA Catechist, Edmond is very active in promoting and defending the Catholic faith. He has a MBA, a CPA-CMA, and a MTS (Master of Theological Studies) from U.T., St. Augustine's Seminary. Having worked many years as the CFO of a non-profit organization, he retired at 55 to follow his special vocation of evangelization. The activities he conducts include the CMCC Bible Study Program, the Catechism Revisited Program, the FLL Spiritual Formation Program, Living in the Holy Tradition, RCIA, family groups and retreats, etc. Edmond is a member of the FLL Core Team. He writes Sunday Mass reflections regularly for the weekly FLL NewSpiration. His personal blog:

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