REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS
HOMILY FOR THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C. Readings: Exodus 3:1-8.13-15; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6.10-12 and Luke 13:1-9.
The season of Lent invites us to a personal encounter with God. This season calls us to return to God. When we return to God with a repentant heart, we will certainly experience His boundless grace, mercy and compassion. Repentance comes with a double package: healing and forgiveness, which frees us from slavery and eventually leads to the salvation of our souls. On a sad note, how many of us realize we are sinners? Even if we do, are we sorry for our sins or do we derive pleasure to continue in them?
From the first reading, we recall the changing fortunes of the Israelites in Egypt, and the later oppression of a king who did not know Joseph and led the growing population of Israel into slavery (Ex. 1:7-8). The reading narrates the call of Moses and his personal encounter with God at the burning bush, which contains all the elements of his mission to free the Israelite slaves from Egypt. When Moses grew up, he sympathized with his people who were suffering and passing through hardship and oppression in the hands of the Egyptians. When he saw an Egyptian mistreating some Israelite, he killed the Egyptian and fled to Midian to escape punishment (Ex. 2:11-22). In his call and encounter with God at the burning bush, Moses was asked to return to Egypt to save the rest of the Israelites.
In the call of Moses, the burning bush drew his attention, “…he looked and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Ex. 3:2). The burning bush was a natural phenomenon but more of a theophany (a manifestation of God). God put the bush there to get Moses’ attention, and it did. God emphatically called him and issued two commandments: do not come near, and take off your shoes. The rationale is that Moses was standing on a holy ground, and after this moment of encounter with God, he will live a God-directed and God-empowered life that will change the course of the history of his people and the world. It was not an honour Moses sought. Rather, it was an honour he five times tried to reject (Ex. 3:11,13; 4:1,10,13). God expressed His compassion and care for the Israelites to Moses when he said, “I have seen the afflictions of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them…” (Ex. 3:7-8). Today’s psalm affirms this compassion of the Lord.
Just immediately after the theophany, there was a revelation of God’s name to Moses when he was curious to know if the sons of Israel ask him the name of the God who sent him, what should he tell them, and God said, “I AM WHO I AM… I am has sent me to you” (v.14). From this answer, we get Yahweh as God’s name. In Hebrew, it is four letters: YHWH. Yahweh now identifies himself as the God of Moses’ ancestors, the God of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). These will be meaningful to the Israelites, who know and revere these names. They know Yahweh’s dealings with these patriarchs in the past, which should reassure them of Yahweh’s dealing with the Israelites in the present.
St. Paul in the second reading, reminds us that all that happened in the first reading with Moses and the Israelites, were written down for our instruction. They were written for us not to desire evil as the Israelites did, nor grumble as some of them did, but to take heed, lest we fall. He warns us of the consequences of deliberate and intentional sins we commit by tracing the death of the Israelites in the desert to their sin against God. In his letter to the Romans, he says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rm. 6:23). However, a true repentant heart will experience God’s mercy and compassion as the psalmist puts it.
Luke in the Gospel reiterates a similar warning to us and draws our attention to the unfathomable mercy and compassion of God. He gives us a pair of stories that call us to repentance and a parable that illustrates the patience and love of God. In this pericope Christ said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worst sinners than all the other Galileans? I tell you, No; but unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (vv.1-5). Could this be too harsh from Christ who is full of compassion and mercy? No! He sees the future and he knows the consequences of sin is death, but he wants us to have life.
In one of the recent homilies of Bishop Godfrey Onah of Nsukka Diocese that went viral, he said, “Anybody who deliberately causes others to suffer or offers them as sacrifice in order to progress or be rich will never be happy in this life and will suffer damnation in the next life.” Like Christ, he was blunt and not indifferent to the teachings of Christ who is aware of the danger ahead and has the interest of sinners to repent and return to him. In the parable of the fig tree that follows, it expresses God’s patience for us to return to Him.
In today’s liturgy, we are called to have a personal encounter with God like Moses, and we are given the opportunity to learn and correct the mistakes of our predecessors who have failed. Like the fig tree, we are given the opportunity to return to God through the sacrament of reconciliation, which stands as the manure we need to bear good fruits. Dear friends in Christ, repentance attracts God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness and salvation. As sin enslaves us, repentance brings freedom, healing and restoration of God’s blessings. Whoever derives pleasure to continue in sin has a condemnatory reward.
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ