Sunday, February 28, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent

Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15
Ps 1031-4, 1-8, 11
1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12
Lk 13:1-9

The narrative of Moses and the burning bush is a familiar one.  It is one of many theophanies, or manifestations of God, in the Old Testament.  It seems a bit odd that Moses has to ask God's name.  The Jewish Study Bible explains that Moses was not raised with his people.  He knew nothing of their religion.  (Kind of like the kids today whose parents are fail to give them any religious instruction.  In this case ignorance is not bliss.)  Moses had to undergo a kind of conversion if he were to become the leader of the people.  Thus we have the somewhat odd name for God, I AM.  The Jewish Study Bible translates the Hebrew as "I Will Be What I Will Be."  It goes on to explain that this means "My nature will become evident from My action."  That translation leaves a lot of questions unanswered.  They are questions that will never be answered. 

The gospel narrative is unique to Luke.  What are we to make of it? 

A number of years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner published the book  When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  I chose not to read it then and have no intention of doing so.  The reason for this decision is that it is arrogant to assume that one can explain the problem of "theodicy," the question of why a loving God permits, allows, or, as some choose to believe, causes evil, disaster, death and suffering.  Theodicy asks "WHY?"  Theodicy shouts the angry WHY? that has circled the globe since God created us.   

One can hear Eve screaming WHY? after Cain killed Abel. 

One can imagine Noah shrieking WHY? when he surveyed the damage after the flood. 

If we listen closely we can hear ourselves groaning WHY? at the illness or death of a loved one, the loss of a home through fire,  or the need to confront mortality  when I realize I am dying. 

Jesus' examples are challenging because there is no historical record to confirm them.  Yes, Herod did evil sadistic things so as to maintain absolute control.  True, towers did collapse and kill people.  But, scholars cannot agree what the Tower of Siloam was.  There is no historical record of a sacrifice of Galileans at worship.  But the examples do illustrate that evil, disaster, suffering, and death happen to both the bad and the good. Indeed, the saying "only the good die young"  is as appalling and inaccurate a rationalization as was ever invented.

Jesus repeats "If you do not repent " twice in this short passage. Though he does not use the word, conversion is implied.  Repentance and conversion are two sides of the same coin.  Repentance is an interior act. Conversion is the exterior change in behavior that grows from repentance.  

In His call to repentance Jesus is echoing the words of the prophets: Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Ezekiel, each of whom preached repentance for sin and conversion of heart.  Their message was reinforced and amplified by John the Baptist whose baptism was not meant as a cleansing but was to be accompanied by conversion of one's life and action.  Thus Jesus calls us to repent and to open ourselves to the conversion that follows. 

Xavier Leon-Dufour pointed out the uniqueness of Jesus' call to repentance and conversion. "When He called for conversion, Jesus did not make any reference to penitential liturgies and customs.  He distrusted signs that were too showy.  What really counted was the change of heart . . . " 

Will bad things still happen in the world if we repent?  Will we still experience suffering and pain despite conversion of heart? 


The risk is not that bad things will happen to good people.  The risk is the temptation to defiance of and hardness of heart toward God when they do happen.  The risk is the attitude, "God, if you don't shape up I'm shipping out." 

The reading from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians is a problem on at least two levels.  First, it is edited.  Chapter ten, one to six and ten to twelve.  The four missing verses are important. They describe the kind of sin that called down punishment: idolatry, immorality, testing God.  Sounds like twenty-first century American life sex-change surgery, abortion, celebrity worship, and greed.  Second, there is no accounting for the fact  that both those who are good and those who are evil undergo the same tests: suffering, death, and pain.  I'm not sure Job would, or could, have taken much comfort from Paul. 

We will never know WHY bad things happen to good people.  We will never know WHY good things happen to bad people.  That not knowing is a part of the human state.  Faith will temper pain and sorrow. Prayer will soothe the soul a bit.  But in the end we will never know the answer.  Despite this uncertainty we are called to sing with the psalmist in faith and hope,

The Lord is kind and merciful,
He pardons iniquities,
He heals all ills,
He redeems lives from destruction,
He secures justice,

The Lord is truly kind and merciful.


Jet lag is faded.  I hope.  Just when I thought it was resolved there were a few nights when by 8:00 PM (4:00 AM in Ljubljana) my head looked like a bobble-head doll in a car traveling on the Mass Pike.   

Things continue to look good that I will celebrate Mass and preach on every Sunday of Lent.  In two weeks I go to Regina Laudis for a few days to copy the prefaces and chants I need to learn for the Triduum.  Last year I was trying to learn some of the chants the morning or afternoon of.  I"d rather have the leisure to do that at home so as to enter more comfortably into the magnificent liturgy that extends from Holy Thursday night to the end of Mass on Holy Saturday.  

My classmate Barry who got me started in photography made an interesting observation.  For someone who has said he doesn't do street photography, "you've been doing a lot of it lately."  I guess I have.  Part of the reason is having a very fast lens for night photography.  Had some very good long walks at night in both Ljubljana and Maribor with the camera.  The streets are very safe. The only place I felt as safe on the streets alone with camera equipment late at night was Taipei.  It is hard to do good photography while looking over your shoulder for danger.  Or a mugger. 

I took all of these in central Ljubljana, a very short walk from the community, on Ash Wednesday.  I went into the Franciscan Church.  It was filling up quickly.  

Men going into the Franciscan Church for the imposition of ashes.  The church facade is very brightly illuminated.

The Franciscan Church overlooks the canal that runs through the center of the city.  It extends well past our community.  

An outdoor cafe that is empty but at the ready.  Slovenians eat and drink coffee outdoors in any kind of weather.  I am eager to see what it looks like on a nice summer evening. 

The canal is lined with outdoor eating options.  The top of the Franciscan Church is visible in the background.

Sometimes the outdoor eating area is only a few tables.  The two women on the right had blankets over their legs.  The blankets were supplied by the restaurant.  

The colonnaded area is part of the outdoor market that appears to function daily except for Sunday.  

And empty shop window. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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