Fr. Christopher Dillon OSB

There is a riot of ideas competing for attention in these readings for this Third Sunday of Lent. The over-all context of Lent focuses on the notion of life as a journey, during which we learn to encounter God in the positives and the negatives of that journey. Today, the initial and startling encounter with God by Moses sets the scene for this journey and its adventure, in terms which have been described as the struggle between tragedy and hope, fighting each other without victory. Is this not a description of the current catastrophe which is Ukraine?

Some of you may remember that trendy book of the Self Help variety, some years ago, entitled The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck; and it began, if I remember well, with the lapidary statement, “Life is difficult”. The theme of today’s liturgy would seem to be visiting the same territory. That encounter of Moses with God in the Burning Bush turned his life on its head and perhaps defined the beginning of the rest of human history in bringing to birth the Hebrew people and the story of the Jews who gave birth to the Saviour of the world, in Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the foremost teachers of that people, Paul of Tarsus, with very specific reference to those early adventures of his people, as they emerged from servitude in Egypt to peoplehood in the desert and then in the Promised Land, elaborates on the inevitability of difficulty and the very real possibility of failure on the circuitous journey that we experience as life. His words for today conclude with that caution, “The one who thinks he is safe must be careful that he does not fall.”

But, critically, the Gospel piece from St Luke provides a backdrop of positivity and hope. The fruitless fig tree in the parable may be taken to represent all the negativity of failure, whether in our collective or in our personal history. And, while the business-like course of action might be to cut it down and start again with a new tree, Jesus seems to ascribe to the Father the very un-business-like approach of working with it just one more time, for one more year. Divine patience is what is offered to us as a recipe to consider in our individual and personal story. Dare we hope for something like this in Eastern Europe, today?

St Benedict, the patron of our monastic life, appears to make much of this possibility in the mind of God, when he writes in the Prologue to his Rule, “The days of our life are lengthened and a respite allowed us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. For the Apostle says, ‘Do you not know that the patience of God invites you to repentence?’ For the merciful Lord says, ‘I do not want the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live.’” Vladimir Putin, are you listening? More immediately, perhaps, are we listening to this invitation of God, at this mid-point in Lent, to welcome his patience and to work with it? That is our task, in the amending of our ways; even in the extending to others God’s patience with ourselves. “For the one who thinks he is safe must be careful that he does not fall.”

Yes, life is difficult; sometimes, very difficult. But so, too, God is patient, very patient.


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