Third Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 3, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
As we enter the third week of Lent, we are reminded by some that we are continuing on a forty-day journey of preparation for Easter. It is a journey based on Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness for forty days in preparation for his ministry (Mark 1:13). Others remind us it is a time for us to take stock of our lives - individually and collectively – to repent and to make all things pono or right.
Our neglect or failure to turn aside, turn away and turn around from all that would keep us from our love of God and of others and ourselves will yield its share of devastating consequences. Our reading from the first letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth makes such a point. Paul recalled the catastrophic results of what happened to those who indulged in immorality and evil. In a single day, twenty-three thousand fell.
How easy it would be for us to side with Paul when we look at the trouble and despair of our world and the afflictions we face in our own lives. Most, if not all of us, have heard it said that when misfortune comes our way it is because of our own doing.
We have come to believe that terrible things happen to us because we are terrible people. We must have done something wrong. We must repent. After all, bad things happen to bad people. But what are we to say when bad things happen to good people?
The apostle Paul’s response seems to be if bad things happen to a good person that person just has to suck it up. He writes: “God is faithful and God will not let any of you be tested beyond your strength, but with testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I usually find very little comfort in Paul’s words. His remark reminds me of those who will seek to reassure others that their suffering – their pain, their sorrow, their loss, their grief, their anger, their frustration, their despair, their disappointment – is all a part of God’s plan.
But I realize that was not Paul’s intention – to say that when bad things happen to good people – it is the fault of those who suffer. Instead, Paul points immediately to the faithfulness of God to remind us whether we are good or bad – God remains faithful. That is what I appreciate in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke. Whatever the future may hold, God remains faithful.
Michael Curry is a Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He writes: “When Jesus spoke to those who came to him telling of a terrible human tragedy, he dealt directly, emphatically, and bluntly . . . ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No’" (Luke 13:2-3, RSV)
“Frankly, if God was in the business of meting out judgment and curses in relation to our sins,” he continues, “there probably wouldn’t be anyone left on the planet. In this text, Jesus says no to simplistic answers to deep and complex questions, no to attempts to solve deep troubles with quick fixes, and no to shallow theological thinking” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 95).
Jesus responds to the aches of all of our hearts. Like the disciples who find themselves immobilized at the time of Jesus’ death so we find ourselves sometimes immobilized by the losses we face in our own lives – the loss of work, the loss of home, the loss of loved ones, the loss of health, the loss of purpose.
Curry points out, “Those who would be disciples of Jesus, who would follow in his way in the power of his Spirit, are on (a) mission” of “facing the reality of mystery and the limits of what we can know” (Ibid.).
Jesus tells a parable about a gardener who is determined to tend a fruitless fig tree because “he is open to a future possibility that he does not control or manage” (Ibid.). In other words, as we look at the lives of others and our own lives, much is unknown. Many questions remain unanswered.
I share Curry’s observation that “in the end, the future is God’s, but we share in the mission of unfolding the future” (Ibid.). It is not likely that we will ever find satisfactory answers for the pain and suffering in our lives.
The question we may want to ask ourselves in the face of our own afflictions is not “Why? Why me?” but “What am I going to do about it?”
Our task is to bear witness to God’s compassion through our aloha for one another and then to wait. “We labor for a future we are not meant to control” (Op. cit., page 97).
The man who planted a fig tree in his vineyard waited for three years for the tree to bear fruit. “Why should I let this tree waste the soil?” he asked.
His gardener replied, “One more year, give it one more year. I will tend to the tree and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Luke 13:9). Like the gardener, we too labor for a future without having all the answers.
As we gather around this table to share in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, it is an open invitation that has been made possible through the faithfulness of our God. For that we give thanks. Amen.