Third Sunday in Lent


By Emily VanBerkum

In the summer of 2013, I studied Hebrew and the Book of Leviticus in Israel. As we were reading through various Torah commentaries, I found a quote that has stayed with me ever since. The commentary stated, “while God is called by many names, God is what God is by virtue of God’s deeds. That is to say, you cannot really know God until you experience God in your own life.”

Moses had a rather striking experience of God in the form of a burning yet unconsumed bush. God commissioned Moses to bring God’s chosen people to a land flowing with milk and honey. In order to give credence to his assigned mission, Moses asked how he was to identify God when he tells the “children of Israel” about this special encounter. God’s response, “I AM WHO I AM,” has been translated and interpreted by theologians countless times over. What it tells me is that God cannot be defined by a single name or title. What is first required before a relationship can be forged, is an experience of God.

And so, Jesus aims to share an experience of God by telling his followers a parable about an unfruitful fig tree. But first, his followers unload on Jesus about the murder of Galileans sacrificing in the Jerusalem Temple and the death of those trampled by the crumbling tower of Siloam. For the people gathered around Jesus that day, these tragic moments reiterated that even if God could not be named, they knew some of God’s characteristics and that God was wrathful and full of judgment. So Jesus tells a parable that reminds us that God’s time and ways are totally unbeknownst to our human mind and ways of thinking. After the vineyard owner’s understandable command to cut down the unfruitful tree, the gardener asks for the gift of time. Instead of ignoring the gardener’s advice, the vineyard owner responds with patience and gives the fig tree a second chance!

Life is a precious gift and our growth must be nurtured so that good fruit can be born out of us. Today’s Gospel reminds us that we continually have the opportunity to produce good fruit according to God’s time and plan for us. In this Lenten season, God is the patient vineyard owner who gives us a second chance to grow and produce good fruit. What experiences of God have you had in your life? How have these experiences produced good fruit?

Sunday’s Readings:

Exodus 3.1-8a, 13-15

1 Corinthians 10.1-6, 10-12

Luke 13.1-9