Father Donald Senior, CP

At times, the Lord will ‘trim’ us so we can bear fruit

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9

One of the founders of our Passionist community’s mission to Japan told me years ago that whenever he returned to his parish there he thought of the story of Moses and the burning bush — and wanted to take his shoes off and kiss the ground because it was holy.

When he first went to Japan in the early 1950s, shortly after his ordination, he was convinced that he was going to bring the sacredness of the Christian message to an unbelieving people. But over the years he realized that in a very true sense God’s Spirit was already at work there in the goodness of the people and in the beauty and reverence of their religious traditions. He was being invited to walk on holy ground.

The story of Moses and the burning bush is one of the foundational events in the biblical story. When the shepherd Moses goes over to see what this strange phenomenon of a burning bush in the desert might be, he encounters the mysterious and overwhelming presence of the God of Israel. God calls Moses and enlists him to rescue God’s people from slavery and to lead them into “the good and spacious land, a land flowing with mild and honey.”

This is a scene that captures so much of the Bible’s conviction about God: God infinitely holy and mysterious, yet tender and present. God hears the anguished cry of his people and will not be indifferent to their suffering. The God of the Scriptures is a compassionate and merciful God, with a special love for the vulnerable and those who suffer injustice.

There is also a lot in this scene about the Bible’s view of those whom God calls for his mission. Moses is privileged to speak with God “face to face,” as the Book of Deuteronomy will say, and he learns God’s own name. So Moses despite his acute hesitations will summon up his courage and lead the people out of slavery.

But as the biblical account unfolds, Moses also proves to be a very human messenger of God: lamenting the foibles and complaints of the people; hesitating about God’s commands; and, against his better judgment, listening to those who are fearful and want to turn back from their journey to freedom. In the poignant final chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses will gaze across the Jordan Valley to the Land of Promise but will not live to enter it.

This Sunday’s liturgy links this rich biblical story with a strange and challenging selection from Luke’s Gospel. Jesus rejects the prevailing view that people who suffer an accident were being punished for something they had done, like the Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pilate, or those who died when a tower collapsed near the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Rather than speculate about the guilt of these victims, Jesus’ hearers would be better off to repent of wrongdoing in their own lives.

Jesus drives his strong message home with a pointed story. A landowner became frustrated with a fig tree that had not produced fruit for three years and wanted to cut it down. But the gardener was more patient and pleaded that it be given another chance. To help it produce he would till the soil and fertilize it.

These two biblical stories — Moses’ encounter with a God of extraordinary compassion and Jesus’ blunt call for repentance — are like bookends for our liturgy of the Word this third Sunday of Lent. God’s compassion will never fail (Is Jesus the patient gardener in Luke’s parable?) but when faced with such unconditional love we need to respond by turning away from our sins and leading lives worthy of God’s compassion. Then we are able to stand on holy ground.


  • scripture