The Third Sunday of Lent is a loud and clear call to repentance. We are halfway through Lent and these readings are a reminder to continue to do some soul searching and examination of our consciences during this season of repentance.
The people told Jesus about the Galileans who Pilate had slaughtered insinuating that their deaths were because of their sins. Jesus responds by telling them that their sins were not greater than any other Galileans, and tells them, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.” He then brings up the account of a tower that fell and killed eighteen people in Siloam, and reiterates that they were no more sinners than the rest of the people of Jerusalem, and repeats, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.” The message is clear, “Repent or die.” The Church observes this yearly season of repentance so that we might not die, but live. Lent leads us to the Triduum during which we celebrate the victory of Jesus over death, and the promise he gives us to everlasting life. If we want to live we need the true desire to turn away from sin and walk more and more faithfully with Jesus. Jesus ends this teaching with the lesson of the fig tree. If it doesn’t bear fruit at first, let’s give it another year. Eventually, if it doesn’t bear fruit it will be cut down. Jesus gives us time to repent and bear fruit, but sooner or later the day of judgement will come for each one of us. Repentance should not be put off, but is something we should be mindful of every day.
In Second Corinthians Saint Paul reminds us of the lesson to be learned from the history of Israel. Time and time again God intervened to help them and rescue them, and time and time again they soon forgot and turned away again. We receive many blessings from the Lord, and have the opportunity to celebrate his mercy in Confession, yet we soon turn back to sin. Every year we observe Lent as our opportunity to return to the Lord, to begin fresh so as to bear fruit. This repeated turning away from and returning to the Lord can be both discouraging and heartening.
When we repent and make the resolution to turn away from a particular sin or sins we do so with deep sincerity, as well as the knowledge that we will find ourselves in sin again. It can be discouraging to face the same sins repeatedly and just as repeatedly ask God’s forgiveness. We can easily get to the point where we wonder, “what’s the use of confessing, I’m only going to sin again.” This discouragement could keep us away from God’s mercy and lead us farther and farther away from the Lord. We can learn from the Israelites that as often as they sinned and wandered away from God, that it was they who wandered, not God. God was always present and awaiting their return. Jesus points out that God’s love is even greater than the Israelites understood. Like the Good Shepherd, when we wander off, God is seeking us out.
The lack of repentance leads to death, but Jesus shows us how to escape death by repentance. When we repent we embrace the love and mercy of Jesus, we accept the depth of God’s love who sent his Son Jesus, who died for us. God’s desire for us is that we have life everlasting with him. Lent is our time to rediscover God’s desire and all he does for us to bring us back to him.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.