Jules Does

Jules Does Lent: Strength for the Journey

Posted on: February 28, 2016



Sometimes, readings are like a film – they all hang together to make a pretty coherent story, which you can follow easily. But sometimes, like today, readings are more like a meal – each serving belongs to a different food group and has something slightly different to contribute, and it can be hard to see what connects them all (if there’s a connection at all).

To my mind, the readings for today are almost better when read in reverse. In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his listeners that God is not in the business of using bad things like death or suffering to punish bad people. But it’s not all good news – people who suffer may not be worse than the rest of the population, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the population is fine. In fact, the rest of the population needs to get its act together and bear fruit, or it too will be destroyed, uprooted like a disobedient plant. Yikes.

The reading from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians puts a new spin on the “they were bad, so they died” dogma. The Israelites who died in the desert during the forty years of wandering did so not only because they had displeased God (even though they all started from a place of purity, having been baptised by going through the Red Sea and so on) but also to serve as a warning to us against being lazy in our faith – we need to be careful that we don’t fall away, even when we think we’re safe and comfortable. Like Friday’s readings, this passage suggests that our suffering can play a larger role not only in our lives but in the lives of others, even if it is as a warning.

The Psalm, on the other hand, exhorts us to remember God’s infinite mercy and love for us, how he rescues us from sin and redeems us. It also mentions how God gave His law to Moses and the Israelites, and that allusion takes us to the first reading, where Moses encounters the Burning Bush and receives the mission from God that will lead to the exodus from Egypt, the forty years of wandering, the entry into the promised land, and eventually the coming of Christ. This is before anyone has disobeyed God and been punished with death, before the horror and joy of Passover, before any of the plagues on the Egyptians. Here we are right at the beginning, with God revealing His name to Moses, former prince, shepherd and murderer.

I think the verse that manages to connect all of these readings can be found in this reading, in verses 7 and 8 – God has heard the suffering of his enslaved people, and will bring them out into a land of unfathomable plenty. Egypt is sometimes a metaphor for sin and fallenness; just as the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, so we are often slaves to sin, unable to do good even though we would like to. God hears our cries, He knows that we want to live in freedom, so He himself comes down to rescue us. It may be the case that we all deserve death as the wages of sin, but God gives us time to return to him and to bear fruit.

It is also significant that the gardener in the parable doesn’t just agree that the vine should be removed. Instead, he begs for it to be given another chance and promises that he will take extra care of it, giving it extra attention and nourishment in order to encourage it to grow. We know that Christ came and poured Himself out for us on the cross in order to redeem us; and more than that, Catholics know that He comes to us in every Mass and nourishes us with His word in the Bible and, crucially, with His very body in the Sacrament of Communion, just as the gardener nourishes the vine so that it can produce fruit.

Today’s readings balance God’s love and God’s justice and remind us that we need to be rooted in and nourished by God if we are going to have a chance in this sinful world. If we persevere, He will lead us out of slavery to sin into the Kingdom of Heaven, which will be more wonderful than we can predict. We mustn’t get too comfortable, but should always be challenging ourselves to do better, to love more, to serve more and in doing so to bear fruit for our God. So, what fruit are we bearing? Are we patient with others? Do we have self-control? Are we gentle and kind? Are we patient? Are we joyful? If not, maybe we need to draw more deeply on the nourishment God is offering us, rather than resting in our complacency. After all, bearing fruit takes energy and strength, strength which God will provide in abundance.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: