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Third Sunday of Lent, 2016

Barbara Houlihan Hecht

Associate Barbara Houlihan Hecht takes this Sunday’s challenging readings and focuses our attention on God’s surpassing mercy.  As God is incomprehensible to us; so is his everlasting mercy. She thus echoes the theme of this Year of Mercy.

What strikes me in the readings for today is the awe and reverence of the Israelites for God and God’s tender mercy toward all. It seems as though God’s mercy is there for the taking if we are open to His/Her presence as were Moses and the Israelites.

“The Lord is kind and merciful; so surpassing is His kindness to those who fear him.” The psalmist assures us of God’s mercy predicated on our awe of God. 

In the first reading God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and sends him to save the Israelites. Moses is out tending sheep when he notices a bush, burning but not consumed by fire. As he approaches the bush God tells Moses to take off his shoes because it is sacred ground. Moses obeys. Then God gives Moses some daunting instructions; he must lead His people to freedom. Moses asks God who, should he say, sent him? I must admit, this has always been difficult for me. I want clarity and certitude and this response gave me neither.  “I AM” is a divine name. In addition to the fact that it is the present tense of the verb, “to be,” it denotes ongoing action. Because the Israelites acknowledged God’s name as sacred, they never pronounced it, using instead “Yhwh,” meaning, “he is,” the third person form of the verb “to be.” I have heard it said that, when we think we know who God is, we certainly don’t have it right because we can never know God fully. God is mystery.

In the second reading Paul tells the Corinthians and that the story of the Israelites was written as a warning to us and cautions the self-satisfied. He specifically warns, “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.” These are dire consequences for seemingly minor infraction of complaining. However, negativity does not serve us well, nor does it, the people who have to listen to it. It’s destructive, undermining effects are insidious. 

The Gospel "prepares us to hear Lent’s call to conversion and repentance.’’  On his way to Jerusalem Jesus teaches and heals. His authority is questioned by some in the crowds who report a massacre of Galileans by Pilate. They ask Jesus to explain why these people suffered. Jesus dispelled the commonly held belief that people’s suffering was evidence of their sinfulness and made it clear that even a fatal accident or a natural disaster should not be interpreted as punishment for sin. Jesus warns us that anyone who sees others’ sins as more egregious than our own needs to look again. Jesus points out that all are equally guilty but shifts the focus from questions of guilt to God’s patience and endless mercy.  




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