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Third Sunday of Lent

February 28, 2016
Reflection by Professor Thomas Groome
Director, Church in the 21st Century Center

Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, is completing his fortieth year of teaching at BC. He also serves as Director of BC's Church in the 21st Century Center. Tom is widely recognized as one of the leading Catholic religious educators in the world and is known for his commitment to integrating faith with the everyday of life. One of his many widely read books is What Makes us Catholic: Gifts for Life (Harper Collins).  

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent:
Exodus 3: 1-8A, 13-15
1 Corinthian 10: 1-6, 10-12
Luke 13: 1-9

Who and How is My God?

Atheists and theists each take a gamble, and we both have our moments of doubt.  For theists the great stumbling block, of course, is all the suffering in the world; for atheists it is all the goodness in the world.  (I have an atheist friend who recently fell madly in love with a wonderful woman who, likewise, loves him deeply; it has really shaken his unbelief). The agnostic, then, decides not to decide, preferring to err on the side of caution – which can’t be much fun at all!

Meanwhile, it seems that the human spirit is inherently disposed to believe in something worthwhile, some cause, purpose, center of value or whatever to lend a measure of meaning to life. So even atheists have some “god” – even if it is only themselves. Without a center of value of some kind, then literally, why get out of bed in the morning?

What God or god one believes in has ultimate consequences for our lives. Our God/god can be life-enhancing or destructive, lead toward fullness of life or into some kind of slavery (ever the danger of idols). So, while deciding if God “is” might be our first gamble, an equally weighty issue is the kind of God/god we imagine when we even hear the word. (The one that modern atheists -  Dawkins et al– reject, I don’t believe in either). So if God is, then how is God for us – two sides of the same coin yet both vital questions.

Pause and Reflect

  • Even with your doubts – some days - do you truly believe that God Is?
  • What dominant image, or understanding, or felt sense do you have of God?
  • Who or what has most shaped the God of your life?

What God says of Godself

For Christian and Jewish faith, today’s first reading is a foundational text for who and how our God is for us – Moses before the burning bush.  Treat yourself again to Exodus 3: 1- 15, reading slowly.

 

Easter

First, note the ultimate divine name: “I am Who am.” While scholars have long debated the translation of the Hebrew here, it certainly reflects God’s own bold statement “I Am,” inviting us to confess that God Is. So Moses does not hear that “there is a God” but rather that God Is. Thus God is not just one thing among many others that exist; instead, God’s “Isness” is the ultimate ground of all that is.

Then, how is this God who Is. At least from this burning bush we hear that God Is ever alert to the “affliction of God’s people,” hears “their cry,” and is willing to “come down to rescue them” from their oppressors, and “lead them out” of their slavery into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” So, God not only Is but Is for – favors - human liberation, justice, and well-being.

This same God who totally favors us echoes throughout today’s Response, Psalm 103 (treat yourself to it again). So this God who Is, is “kind and merciful,” “secures justice and the rights of the oppressed,” is “compassionate,” “gracious,” “and abounds in kindness.”

Reflect and Decide

  • Can you really believe in such a benevolent God?  If you do, then “how about . . .” (make your list of doubts). And yet . . . (your responses?)
  • How can you take your own faith that God Is and that God totally favors us – and put it to work in daily life?

God Who Empowers Us

After that totally benevolent image of God from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospel reading today comes as a bit of a shocker. It repeats twice that we must “repent” (metanoete, change our lives) or there literally will be “hell to pay.” And the barren fig tree gets one more chance to bear fruit or else.

People in 12-step programs are the ones who best hold together these paradoxical images of God – as both benevolent and demanding of us. They say that they continue in recovery from addictions (false gods) only by the help of Higher Power.  This is what Christians call “grace,” meaning God’s effective love at work. Yet, there is no “cheap grace”; God’s grace comes as a responsibility – or better, a response-ability.  Fittingly then, we are held to account. Anything less would be beneath our human dignity and freedom. This combination of what theologians refer as “nature and grace,” God’s help and our best efforts, means that God is a partner with us – so favoring us, all the way.  

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