3rd Sunday in Lent

March 11, 2007
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 55:1-9
Reading 2: 
Psalm 63:1-8
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Reading 4: 
Luke 13:1-9
By Ignacio Castuera

The texts for this third Sunday in Lent speak mightily to the situation in which we find ourselves in the center of the Empire. As national budgets are discussed and as personal budgets are decided we need to keep at the center of our thinking the words of Isaiah: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Echoes of the texts from Ash Wednesday and the temptations come through loud and clear. We noted that Luke omits Jesus’ reference to the word of God as a necessary complement to the bread needed for daily living. Here all the texts, except the Gospel’s, mention the need to be fed by the love of God and protected by the wings of the loving deity. It is very important to note that in the Psalm there is an inversion of the words from Isaiah and the psalmist makes his own the thirst and hunger for God. More important, from a Process perspective, it is noteworthy that the Psalm juxtaposes power and glory as that which the psalmists first looks for in the sanctuary but the praise he gives emanates from  the recognition that God’s steadfast love is better than life. This theme of tenderness continues in the intimate images of thinking about God in our own bed and realizing that the help one has from God is not coming from a mighty and outstretched arm but from living in the shadow of God’s wings. (Remember last week’s gospel text, where Jesus refers to himself in the same tender terms of a female protector with wings for her chicks, a rich image for Women’s History month.)

The closing words of the Epistle provide us with an opportunity to pick up the point made on the commentary on the Temptations. Once we are in Christ, in Christ’s faithfulness to God, then whenever we are tested/tempted along with the testing the way out will be provided by God. This is important as we face temptations that are more subtle and have more social consequences than the “sexual immorality” or “complaining” against God mentioned by Paul. The core of our temptations today is made out of a constant call to consume and hoard. We continue to hold on to the power of people living in the North Atlantic consuming daily the goods extracted cheaply with the labor of the people from the poorer nations of the world. We must resist that temptation by realigning our priorities and buying without silver and gold.

The Gospel addresses another temptation that is subtly connected with the temptation to exploit the poor. People in power tend to portray those they exploit as  folk who richly deserve the condition under which they live and die. The Galileans in this text must stand today for those who suffer from their resistance to the power of the Empire while those who died under the falling stones of the tower of Siloam  (a place that is presented in other texts as a healing harbor!!) stand for all who suffer from natural disasters, often labeled acts of God.

This is a temptation that is constantly in front of people as news media outlets present those who suffer as either richly deserving their lot or innocently living in the tracks of events that come from “God”, that is, nature.

The unless you repent clause placed on the lips of Jesus must be carefully translated in our sermons. In the first case our repentance, our turning around, might entail studying carefully the movements of resistance to the Empire within it and from around the world. A good “spiritual exercise” to suggest for the rest of Lent would be to organize a study of any of David Griffin’s books on 9/11 as they represent the best example of a christocentric resistance to the Empire from within the Empire. The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God would also make a great book to read in groups of individual congregations or several congregations coming together. Other suggestions might lead us to read more about Jihad movements in Palestine. Still others might entail connecting with Lebanese Christians. Above all, stories of women and resistance should enrich our preaching during this month.

The second type of repentance may involve pointing out that the way the efforts to clean up after Katrina have been slowed and almost stalled by ideologies that cannot have any other name but racist. We can, of course, include the issue of incompetence in the responses, but when after more than a year women and children keep on suffering then other reasons and explanations must be found.

Finally the fig tree story at the end of the Gospel lesson should be presented as a story of patience and hope and not as a story of judgment and doom. The open end of the story is our source of hope. We all are given another chance to repent, to turn around and to begin living in the faithfulness of Christ’s faithfulness to God. And three years later, when this story comes around in the Christian Lectionary Cycle it will have the same open ended conclusion.

Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister, is currently serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California, and also serves as the national chaplain for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Rev. Castuera has served churches in Mexico, Hawaii, and California. In 1980, he became the first Latino District Superintendent of the Los Angeles District of the California Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.