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THE SALVIFIC OPPORTUNITY

Read­ing Time: 9 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Exod 3:1–8.13–15; 1Cor 10:1–6.10–12; Luke 13:1–9)

Regret is not a pro­act­ive feel­ing. It is situ­ated in dis­ap­point­ment, sor­row, even remorse. It merely wishes things were dif­fer­ent without an act to cause a dif­fer­ence. How­ever, repent­ance is dif­fer­ent. Repent­ance is an admis­sion of, hatred of, and turn­ing away from sin before God” (M. Johnson).

Introduction

The Len­ten peri­od is gradu­ally pro­gress­ing towards the resur­rec­tion, the ful­fil­ment of sal­va­tion. The Len­ten Sundays con­tin­ue to enrich us with mes­sages that pre­pare us spir­itu­ally for the paschal mys­tery. While the First Sunday invited us not to allow food, power, and wealth suf­foc­ate our desire for God, the Second Sunday explained to us the right atti­tude in the pres­ence of God. This Third Sunday teaches us that repent­ance is indis­pens­able for God’s bless­ings and for sal­va­tion. As Luke puts it, unless we repent, we shall all per­ish. We must take advant­age of our salvif­ic opportunity.

This is the third week of Lent, and I know you are pre­par­ing adequately for the great feast. The les­son or mes­sage of each Sunday, should be linked to that of the pre­vi­ous Sunday. Some­times we think those who suf­fer are worse sin­ners than us. At times, the suf­fer­ings of oth­er people can for­ti­fy our faith and belief in God and in the mercy and love of God for those who are faith­ful to His ordin­ances. Since the begin­ning of this year, so many people have died. For instance, on Janu­ary 27, 2019, two bombs exploded at a church in the Phil­ip­pines, killing 20 and injur­ing 100 Chris­ti­ans. The Islam­ic State ter­ror­ist group claimed respons­ib­il­ity for that bomb­ing; many people lost their lives in the just con­cluded 2019 Gen­er­al Elec­tions in Niger­ia; on March 10, 2019, a pas­sen­ger flight (Boe­ing 737 Max 8 Jet) trav­el­ling from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Nairobi in Kenya, crashed, killing all the 149 pas­sen­gers and 8 crew mem­bers on board; on March 13, 2019, a 3‑story school build­ing col­lapsed in Ita-Faji area in Lagos Island, leav­ing many people includ­ing chil­dren dead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF-ajezaHyg); on March 14, 2019, sev­er­al people lost their lives and many injured in a ghastly acci­dent which occurred around Toronto hos­pit­al along Upper Iweka and MCC axis of the Onit­sha-Awka express­way. The acci­dent was caused by break fail­ure involving a trail­er laden with ker­osene, which was head­ing towards Upper Iweka from Awka; on March 15, 2019, at least 50 people were killed and many injured in some mass shoot­ings at two Christ­ch­urch (New Zea­l­and) mosques. This incid­ent occurred while Muslims gathered for their Fri­day wor­ship; from Feb­ru­ary through mid-March this year, as many as 280 people in Chris­ti­an com­munit­ies in north­ern and middle Niger­ia have been killed in vari­ous and sense­less attacks by the Islam­ic Hausa-Fulani mil­it­ants and Boko Haram, who have con­tin­ued to attack Chris­ti­ans in this coun­try. In 2018, there were thou­sands of Chris­ti­ans killed by the same groups. To be noted is that the death of the New Zea­l­and Muslims has attrac­ted more world atten­tion than the death of hun­dreds of Chris­ti­ans by the Islam­ic Hausa-Fulani mil­it­ants and Boko Haram groups. Even world media includ­ing CNN, have not ded­ic­ated much atten­tion to the assaults on Chris­ti­ans as they have for the Muslim vic­tims. Who knows why? Finally, look at what the Cyc­lone Idai is doing in Mozam­bi­que (242 already dead), Zim­b­ab­we (259 already dead) and Malawi (56 already dead). These people have not sinned more than oth­ers. Yet, they are dead. Why?

These vic­tims are not the worst of sin­ners. This is what Jesus wanted to teach his listen­ers and all of us with the examples of those Galileans whose blood Pil­ate mingled with that of their sac­ri­fices, and those people were killed by the tower at Siloam. His answer is a rhet­or­ic­al ques­tion, which reflects a pop­u­lar view that tra­gedies and phys­ic­al ail­ments were due to per­son­al sin. Each ugly exper­i­ence should be an occa­sion for us to learn some­thing. This Sunday Gos­pel read­ing under­lines an import­ant aspect of the Len­ten peri­od – repent­ance. To those who came to inform him about those Galileans killed by Pil­ate, Jesus said: “unless you repent, you will like­wise per­ish like them.” This Sunday Gos­pel pre­pares us to hear Lent’s call to con­ver­sion and repent­ance. Dur­ing his jour­ney to Jer­u­s­alem, Jesus teaches and heals, and respon­ded to those who ques­tion and chal­lenge his author­ity and actions. Luke 13:1–9 has no par­al­lel in Mark and Mat­thew. While Mark and Mat­thew describe an incid­ent in which Jesus curses the fig tree, Luke makes the bar­ren fig tree the sub­ject of a par­able, which is an invit­a­tion to repentance.

Unless you repent….

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all per­ish just as they did” (Luke 13:3.5). This was Jesus’ reply to those who came to report to him about the atro­city com­mit­ted by Pil­ate. Accord­ing to them, Pil­ate mingled the blood of those who came to offer sac­ri­fice togeth­er with their sac­ri­fice (cf. Luke 13:1). Reply­ing, Jesus asked them “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sin­ners than all oth­er Galileans?” (Luke 13:2). After this, Jesus cited anoth­er example him­self. He informed those people that those eight­een people who were killed when the tower of at Siloam col­lapsed did not die because they were worse sin­ners than the inhab­it­ants of Jer­u­s­alem. In both instances, Jesus advised them to repent because unless they repent, they will per­ish like the vic­tims of Pilate’s atro­city and the col­lapse of the tower of Siloam in Jer­u­s­alem. But why did people cite the example of those who were killed by Pilate?

The twelfth chapter of the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke is con­cluded with Jesus’ invit­a­tion to the crowd to be open minded and to have the same time, zeal and com­mit­ment they have for mater­i­al things for spir­itu­al things as well. Since they can read met­eor­o­lo­gic­al sings, they should as well be cap­able of read­ing soteri­olo­gic­al (salvif­ic) sign. Again, Jesus reques­ted them to cul­tiv­ate the habit of set­tling issues amic­ably and allow peace to reign in their lives and com­munit­ies. It was after this example of avoid­ing law courts with all its troubles and incon­veni­ences that some people brought the example of what Pil­ate did. Both this example and the col­lapse of the tower of Siloam are not found else­where. Hence, not much is known about these occur­rences. How­ever, Pil­ate actu­ally killed people as they tried to offer sac­ri­fice. Jesus’ admon­i­tion that “unless you repent, you will like­wise per­ish like them” is an occa­sion to come back to God. The key word here is repent­ance. Gen­er­ally, the Greek term metanoeō means to feel remorse, to repent. In the lit­er­al sense, it means to change one’s mind. To feel remorse, to repent and to change one’s mind implies the per­son has been on the wrong side. And unless we turn from this wrong side, what happened to those killed by Pil­ate and the col­lapsed Siloam tower, will equally hap­pen to us.

On the fig tree

Then he told this par­able: “a man had a fig tree planted in his vine­yard; and he came look­ing for fruit on it and found none…” (Luke 13:6). The par­able of the fig tree por­trays obstin­acy in sin. The par­able alludes to Israel. That is, it sym­bol­izes the last oppor­tun­ity gran­ted to Israel to repent before exper­i­en­cing God’s judg­ment. For three years, the own­er of the fig tree has been com­ing to har­vest the fruit of his labour, but there is noth­ing to har­vest. There is noth­ing to har­vest because des­pite the effort of the own­er of the vine­yard, the fig tree has refused to pro­duce fruits. Who are the per­son­al­it­ies and oth­er images involved in this par­able? The own­er of the fig tree is God.

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