Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (Cycle C)
In what may perhaps be the most poignant episode in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Spirit engages unsuspecting humanity in a fiery and awe-inspiring event of self-introduction. Amid a bush that will not burn, the beloved Mystery appears to the patriarch of the exodus in an ethereal light, which rendered sacred the profane earth it chose to manifest itself upon.
Within a tale of worldly corruption and growing hopelessness, he comes to offer a touch of divinity, a glimpse of hope, the pathway to holiness. Consequentially, the soil upon which the blood of our ancestors was shed in a history of hatred, oppression and violence, is cleansed by the God called יהוה in a declaration of love, a commitment to justice and a promise of peace: He has “seen the humiliation,” he has heard “their cry,” he is moved by “their suffering,” he comes from heaven “to free them from the power” of oppressors, and “to bring them up … to a beautiful spacious land.”
Therefore, our God makes holy what is unholy because we have faith in the God who loves and treasures us his creatures from the beginning. We believe in the God who guides us in the goodness in which we have been born, and who compassionately cares for us when we stray from that goodness. We are exhorted to place our total trust in the God who mercifully liberates us from evil, from the misery and death caused by undisciplined freedom, silent indifference and gross irresponsibility. We have been given a model in the Christ who for our sake, demonstrated both what God is doing for us and what we can do in return for God.
But as Paul laments of the people of Corinth, though we may all be nourished from the same “spiritual rock” that is the Christ, though we may all have publicly professed to be followers of the Way, though we may all have sincerely committed ourselves in mind and heart to become disciples and servants of the kingdom, “most of us will not please God.” The Apostle – like his master the Christ did before him – is underscoring the reality that though we bear the marks of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, we must still remember in humility that we are all sinners: It is important to often recall that we are still “people of evil desires,” ever complaining and “grumbling,” an ungrateful multitude worthy of destruction, so we can in patience and persistence, recollect our need for him, his forgiveness and salvation.
Our complacent nature can result in a misplaced pride in our “achieved” or “deserved” Christianity. So, Paul warns, “If you think you stand, beware, lest you fall.” This may explain why in spite of the powerful social message of the Christ during his lifetime, the theology and institutions of Christianity can hardly make a difference on the self-centeredness of humanity and on the social discrimination it aggravates. It has turned into a religion of privileges, of pursuing spiritual advantages and of boasting about having received “unmerited grace” that its spiritual worldliness is no different from the secular worldliness that surrounds it. It has become a religion we are eager to have, and are compelling others to have, while demeaning those who are not “the same as us;” than a religion we are simply supposed to be grateful to have, while from a position with no imagined self-importance, sharing it with those who are similarly fallen.
How then can we expect to serve the kingdom of God by curing the pride of the world, if we cannot control the pride of our own churches? We are pitifully reverting back – albeit somewhat unconsciously – to the faith of the Pharisee from the faith of the publican. We must remember that the authentic Christian worldview contends and consistently affirms our being “undeserving” rather than “deserving;” our need to struggle and endure the pathway from sorrowful repentance to joyful charity; and our commitment and duty to guide others along this same penitential journey.
The marks of heavenly love and redemption though indelible, does not make one “much less a sinner than another,” nor “much less deserving of pain and suffering than another.” These marks are instead the gifts of the God who makes holy what is unholy, which as Jesus taught, should prompt us to “change our ways.” We are all undeserving of the gift of being given another chance; we only have to learn to graciously receive the opportunity.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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