Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 3:1-8.13-15; 1 Cor. 10:1-6.10-12; Gospel of Luke 13:1-9
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 24 March 2019
When bad things happen to us, like when we have a bad fall, or meet with an accident or loose a good job or suddenly contact a serious illness, there is a tendency for many of us is to ask ourselves, what wrong have I done or sins have I committed? In asking ourselves such questions, we are indirectly attributing such bad happenings to God’s way of punishing us for our sins.
In today’s Gospel Jesus highlights the two disasters that happened: one caused by Pilate’s mass murder of some Galileans sacrificing in the Temple, and the other caused by the accidental collapse of the tower at Siloam where many were killed. Jesus then proclaims clearly that when such disasters happen; one political and the other natural, they are NOT because God is punishing the people for their sins.
If we develop a negative image of a punishing God, we will develop an unhealthy relationship with Him. This is because if our image of God is one who is harsh and judgmental, and who demands that we obey His Commandments with a cold and heartless obedience like a tyrant, then our relationship with God will never grow into a personal relationship.
Such a God is furthest from the truth because Jesus proclaims a God who is infinitely Merciful and Compassionate. This God of Mercy is clearly proclaimed in Jesus’ teachings of how as His disciples, we are each called to forgive seventy times seven times, which is all the time. Such a Merciful God is also presented in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and through the witness of Jesus Himself,who while hanging on His Cross before He dies, forgives His persecutors and murderers and prays to His Father, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Even as God our Father is all Merciful, Compassionate and Forgiving, in today’s Gospel, Jesus also clearly proclaims, “Unless you repent, you will all perish”.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in asserting and firmly proclaiming that you and I, and indeed everyone has to “repent for our sins”, Jesus is reminding us that to live a sinful life is NOT acceptable. This is because sin not only destroys human relationships; sin also destroys all the blessings that God has given us, and most importantly, sin destroys our relationship with God and thus, even the gift of eternal life that God wants to give us.
The evil and the destructive forces of sin does not respect any person, any cultures, race, religion and country; the mindless and horrific killings of terrorists and extremists are examples of the evils of destruction caused by sin.
The destruction of Mother Earth, though deforestation, nuclear testing in the ground and sea, the pollution of the air and water globally that have the evil consequences of tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, flooding, drought, forest fires, and illness of all kinds like cancer, are also clear evidences that when we do not protect, preserve the natural resources and the Beauty that God has created, our sinful ways can turn God’s divine Blessings in nature into environmental calamities and disasters that will destroy millions of lives in the present and also future generations.
Sin of all forms must always be condemned and never be justified and upheld regardless who promotes or commits the sin. In other words, regardless of what people say, and how people use science and regulations and personal needs to justify sin like abortion or euthanasia, we as disciples of Jesus cannot support such killings. This is because we believe that God our Father Created every human persons, out of Love, and in His own image and likeness; and every human person is sacred and precious to God.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in all that I have said about how sin destroys relationships, our lives and our Mother Earth, I am sure we can all very well understand why Jesus in today’s Gospel proclaims that, “Unless your repent, you will perish”, and that His commandment of our need for repentance is a wisdom that must be upheld at all costs. Repentance, is not only directed at political and religious leaders and people in positions of power in the world.
You and I, and indeed every human person on earth have to repent for our sins. In other words, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is inviting you and I to repent and beg God for His Merciful forgiveness for the wrongs that we have done that have harmed ourselves and others, and the good that we have failed to do in our lives. Global sin exists because there are personal sins; and our personal sins add to the evil that is causing much of the suffering in our hearts, our homes, our church, in our country and in the world.
There is the story of Miguel and his teacher Miss Reyes. When the new school year began, Miss Reyes, noticed that in her new class, there was a student who was dressed poorly, and clearly has not taken a bath for some days. After some months, clearly Miguel is hopelessly behind others in the class, and did not show much interests in class.
Being upset with him, Miss Reyes admits, “I consciously withdrew from Miguel and focused my attention on the other bright students. I told myself that the time and effort that I spend on the brighter students is more rewarding. As time went on, I began to dislike Miguel and ignored him. I also, noticed that all the other students ignored and kept themselves away from him.”
When Christmas came, it was the custom of the school that the students were each to bring a small gift for their teacher before they broke off for their Christmas vacation. So, that day came; and as I was opening all the different gifts, I noticed a gift that was poorly wrapped in brown paper, and everyone in the class knew that the gift was from Miguel. When I opened the gift, I found a gaudy bracelet with several stones missing and a bottle of cheap cologne; half empty. Even as I could hear the snickers and whispers of the students, I brought myself to thank Miguel. Miguel smiled at me and graciously acknowledged my thanks.
When all the students left, Miguel stayed back and then came up to me and said, “Miss Reyes, I hope you like my gifts; they belong to my mother who died some years ago, and I have kept them for someone special to me, and I want to give them to you. I hope you will keep them. Miss Reyes was deeply touched and filled with tears, wore the bracelet and put on some cologne. Miguel smiled and said, “Miss Reyes, you smell like my mother”. Miss Reyes hugged Miguel and thanked him for giving her the most beautiful and precious Christmas gift in her life. From that day onwards, Miss Reyes gave Miguel special attention and tutored him in his studies.
Many years later, Miss Reyes received a letter from Miguel, and it says, “Miss Reyes, I just want you to know that over the years of great struggles and pain, I am now graduating as a medical doctor and am getting married in a few months time. I would like to ask whether you could sit where mom would sit if she were here. Dad died last year.
Miss Reyes eyes were filled with tears and replied instantly, “Yes I will be there at your wedding.” When the wedding day arrived, Miss Reyes turned up, and to the great joy of Miguel, Miss Reyes was wearing the bracelet of his mother and also smelt like his mother, from the cologne of the Christmas gift that he had given her.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, sin and our need for repentance is more than doing wrong and harming people in life. Sin as in the story that we just heard is also the sin of omission, which is the failure to do the good that God wants us to do in our daily living.
Miss Reyes was a conscientious teacher, but her sin was to have failed to care for a poor and needy person like Miguel in her class. As such, we can see that “sin” is a form of “self-centredness” that fails to do the good that we are called to do, by God. And, often such “self-centred” living comes from the prejudice that we have against the people we dislike and have hurt us; the people we cannot forgive and thus gossip and condemn, and treat them without respect.
And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, as I sum up and conclude, let us remind ourselves that we have reflected on how “sin” is found on a global level, where hundreds of millions of people, especially the poor and needy of our secular societies would suffer immensely daily, and being marginalised by society, live without any hope of a better future and are robbed of all the freedomand dignity that God has given them to live as decent human beings.
“Sin” too, is a personal rejection of God’s Love. In the parable of the fig tree in today’s Gospel, “Sin” is taking God’s blessings and goodness for granted. And if this is so, then Jesus is reminding us of our need to “repent” and be vigilant in the way we live, and value the relationshipwe have with God.
Let us not forget that Miguel in our story is the “hero” whom Jesus is inviting us to imitate. Instead of being bitter with life, Miguel, even as he was treated badly by others; his classmates and initially by his teacher, Miss Reyes, Miguel continued to forgive and faced the trials of his life with great dignity, perseverance and trust in the Lord. Miguel in our story did not condemn Miss Reyes, and eventually, showed her how to love in spite of the pain and suffering he had to go through. Miguel’s heart was filled with the love of Jesus, and as such he was able to love Miss Reyes unconditionally.
Finally, the “Sin” of Omission too is a reality that Jesus too is challenge us to reflect on today. In the story of how Miss Reyes treated Miguel, Jesus in today’s Gospel is inviting us to care, love and respect and reach out to those who are suffering in this world, and to use the abundant blessings that God has given us, for the Greater Glory of God, by living a life that is more like Jesus.
- Ref: Story adapted from: The Chain of Love, Essays for Daily Living; Joseph A.Galdon,S.J.; Cacho Hermanos,Inc; 1993; pp.73-78
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.