A reflection by Fr. Dave Warren, S.F.M., on the Third Sunday of Lent. First reading: Exodus 3.1-8, 13-15; Second reading: 1 Corinthians 10.1-6, 10-12; Gospel: Luke 13.1-9
On January 27, a tractor trailer loaded with lumber was travelling south on Highway 400 and lost a set of wheels. One of the wheels bounced across the median into the northbound lanes. It struck an SUV driven by a man from Burlington, Ontario, and the man died in hospital from his injuries.
On February 20, an Über driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan, went on a killing spree. Over the space of five hours, he gunned down six people at random. Between the killings, he continued to pick up passengers.
Why did these people die? Why them in particular? Why not me? Tractor trailers pass me when I am driving on the highway. I leave the safety of my house now and then. Were they any worse sinners than I am?
In today’s gospel, Jesus refuses to blame the victims: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? …Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:2-4)
Jesus doesn’t blame the victim. But neither does He dismiss bad things as totally senseless. Jesus invites us to look upon bad things as a wake-up call.
The interruptions in our lives are calls to repentance. Repentance is not about feeling bad; repentance is about thinking in a different way.
Fluke accidents and random acts of violence make us stop and think. They remind us that we are not in control of life. We live with the illusion that our lives are under control. Most of the time our lives do proceed according to plan. One day seems to be the same as the next. Our lives seem predictable. We imagine that tomorrow will be the same as today. But then something unexpected happens and we find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we don’t need fluke accidents or random acts of violence to remind us that we are not in control. Daily life is full of events that interrupt our plans: we get the flu, a tooth breaks or a filling falls out, the fridge breaks down, the bus is late, we get caught in a traffic jam, the car has a flat tire, our computer crashes. Life is full of interruptions.
The interruptions in our lives are calls to repentance. Repentance is not about feeling bad; repentance is about thinking in a different way. Repentance is not about feeling; repentance is about awareness. Repentance is waking up from our illusions, particularly the illusion of control. It is also changing the way we think about the interruptions in our lives.
When life is proceeding according to plan, it is not necessarily proceeding according to God’s plan. In fact, God has a way of interrupting our plans. In today’s reading, the life of Moses was proceeding according to plan: he was minding the sheep of his father-in-law. But God had other plans for Moses. Fortunately for us, Moses allowed his plans to be interrupted. Moses allowed God to change his plans. The owner of the vineyard in today’s gospel allows his plans to be changed. He wants to cut down the fig tree, but the gardener pleads for the fig tree and asks the owner to give the tree more time. The owner listens to one of his employees and gives the fig tree time to bear fruit.
The God of Moses is the God of Interruptions who interrupted the life of Moses and who interrupts our lives, too. All God asks of us is the openness to be interrupted, the willingness to change our plans. We are impatient. Yet God takes the long view.
We’re still in the “land of the living” because God is giving us more time. We still have fruit to produce. As the bumper sticker says, “Be patient with me! God isn’t finished with me yet.”