Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday 24th March 2019, 3rd Sunday of Lent (year C)
Isaiah 55: 1-9; & St Luke 13: 1-9.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Climbing the Hill
I wonder what your image of God is. In 1942 the French existentialist author Albert Camus wrote a philosophical essay entitled The Myth of Sysiphus. The essay explores man’s search for meaning in a world which is full of pain and suffering. The ancient myth tells the story of how the gods punished Sysiphus, by making him push a rock up a mountain;
upon reaching the top, they would roll the rock down again, leaving Sisyphus to start over. For Camus this story encapsulates the human condition, where there is no way out of the cycles of suffering and pain, in a world where either God does not exist, or if He does, he is a God who inflicts punishment and suffering on his creation.
In our gospel reading from Luke 13 we are presented with two tragedies. We read in verse one, of how some people told Jesus ‘about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices’; and in verse three we heard about the ‘eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them’. The first tragedy concerns some pilgrims who were killed by the occupying Roman soldiers in the temple,
and the second relates to eighteen people who died when a tower fell on them.
The prevalent Jewish belief at the time would have been to believe that the reason why these people suffered was because of their sin, because of something wrong they had done. But Jesus questions this view, and asks ‘do you think they were worse sinners’, ‘do you think they were worse offenders’ because of what happened to them?
The answer is a categorical ‘No’. It is not because of their sin that they died in tragic circumstances. Jesus makes this clear, and then reminds them that all have sinned, and need to seek for repentance.
We live in a word of injustice and suffering, where the weak are trampled on by the powerful; a world built on structural injustice, or structural sin (as the Latin American liberation theologians would call it), and all bear some responsibility. Jesus does not let us off the hook. In this gospel passage he reminds us that the unjust world we see out there, is not detached from us, because the seeds of violence, hatred, and selfishness lie deep in the human heart.
The gospel maps the structural injustice we see in the world to the root causes deep in the human heart. The selfishness, greed, and lack of compassion that lie deep within the human heart, when left unchecked, contribute to what is wrong with our world.
That is why he calls us to repent, and not only to repent, but to bear fruit. In the verses that follow we read of the barren fig tree, which bears no fruit.
The barren fig tree is representative of those things in our lives and our world, that should be life-giving, but are not. It is representative of those people or things that should be a blessing to others, but are not. The barren fig tree represents potential for good that is not realised. It symbolises disappointment.
Where are the barren fig trees of our world?
Where are the barren fig trees in our lives?
Where are the places which should be life-giving for others, and yet are not?
Christ calls us to examine ourselves and our world.
He calls us to repent, to turn around, to not worship the kingdoms of this world which are built on human power, military might, economic injustice and fear and hatred of the other. But the kingdom of God is one marked by lavish grace, which we were reminded of in the poetry we read from the Second Isaiah, where all who are thirsty are invited to come to the waters, regardless of status: ‘Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!’
The God we worship is very different to the gods who Albert Camus wrote about. For our is not a God who punishes humankind by making them climb a hill with a heavy rock on their backs, only to roll it back down the hill when they reach the top. But our God does not exempt himself from human suffering, but comes into our world, bears our burdens, and carries our sorrows. Our God is not far removed up there, punishing his creation from on high, but is the one who came down here, and climbed the hill of Calvary with a heavy cross on his back. In this way he associates himself with all those who are crushed and persecuted, cast out and down-trodden throughout human history, showing that he is at one with them.
During this season of Lent, as we journey with Christ towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, may we pray for the self-sacrificial love that he had.
May we embody the compassion and healing grace that flowed out of him, who gave his life for others. Who was crushed and crucified by an empire that was threatened by his message.
And by responding in nonviolence and forgiveness to those who crucified him, he shows us a better way.
Nelson Mandela once said that ‘our human compassion binds us the one to the other […] as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future’.
Let us, on this Lenten journey through the wildernesses of this world, not lose hope. Let us not lose hope that love is stronger than death, and may our lives be devoted to the costly discipleship which our God calls us to, as we journey with him towards Jerusalem. May our lives embody the gospel of Christ, which stands with all those who are crushed and cast out, offering hope, restoration and an invitation to build his kingdom of justice and love here on earth.
May it be in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning was now, and evermore shall be. Amen.