A reflection on the Readings for March 20, 2022 — the Third Sunday of Lent (Year C)
Over the last few years, I have offered adult faith-formation series based on some of the great saints of the Church. Thus far I have reflected on John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, Oscar Romero, and Francis of Assisi—who lived spanning from the 12th century all the way to the 20th. Preparing for each of the series, reflecting on them, and delivering them has not only been a fascinating experience for me, but it has also been life-transforming. There is one thing that is common to every one of these saints’ lives – each had a pivotal moment that changed the trajectory of their lives. For John of the Cross, it was the nine months he spent in prison—imprisoned by his own brothers. For Thérèse of the Child Jesus it was her ninth Christmas. For Oscar Romero it was the assassination of his friend Fr. Rutillio Grande. For Francis of Assisi, it was when he embraced the despised leper.
I would like to make three points today, reflecting on the very demanding and challenging scripture readings of today’s liturgy. I would like to connect them to the Lenten call to conversion and draw some practical implications.
The Galileans’ Blood and The Tower at Siloam
Twice in the span of three verses in Luke chapter 13, Jesus makes this stunning statement: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Lk 13: 3, 5). Coming from Luke, the evangelist who emphasizes the compassionate Jesus, this stern, John-the-Baptist-like warning is surprising. To make this even more surprising, Luke’s Jesus makes a reference to Pilate and the Galileans and the Tower of Siloam. What was Luke referring to?
The Galileans were a fanatical sect who revolted against the Romans. Pilate was ruthless towards those who incited revolt. There was a saying that Pilate mixed the blood of the revolting Galileans with animals’ blood at Roman sacrifices (Lk 13:2). There is no historical evidence of this event. Similarly, the Tower of Siloam, a city south of Jerusalem, was a structure that we are told crushed 18 people and killed them (Lk 13:4). Again, only Luke makes any reference to it but there is no other historical evidence of this tragedy. It is shocking to hear Jesus say that for those who do not repent, it will be worse than the Galileans or those who were crushed under the Tower of Siloam. What do we make of Jesus’ statement?
If we conclude from this passage that that God caused these tragic events as punishment for sin, then we are missing the point. Rather, Jesus was stressing the absolute need for life-transforming conversion in response to the Gospel.
What is the practical implication? The call to conversion is quintessential to the Lenten and the Christian journey. This Lent, do not miss the call to conversion. Let the Lenten call to conversion reach you with all its intensity.
The True Meaning of Conversion
What does conversion mean? We often associate repentance with sin. We think of conversion as feeling true sorrow for sinful actions, seeking God’s forgiveness for them, and resolving to overcome sinning. Allow me to reflect on conversion from a broader perspective.
In the gospel sense, conversion is more than overcoming sins. It represents a change of direction. The first reading today is a great example of conversion (Ex 3:1-15). Moses had fled Egypt out of fear for his life and settled in Midian. This great Egyptian second-in-command was content tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush made him change his direction and go back to Egypt. Moses had to make a 180 degree turn and retrace his steps to Egypt. Moses’ conversion led an entire people to freedom. Now, this is conversion; this is transformation.
Since I am reflecting on Francis of Assisi these days, let me share his experience. When Francis publicly renounced the world by stripping off the last piece of his family’s clothing, he was not being a jerk. He was not even trying to glorify the virtues of poverty. Rather, Francis was deeply moved by the passion and suffering of Jesus on the crucifix at the San Damiano chapel. Transformed by Christ’s suffering he began to live a life of penance. His solution was not merely to do acts of penance. In his renunciation, Francis moved from one part of the social hierarchy of Medieval society to another social rung – from being a wealthy merchant’s reputed son to being a beggar and a nobody on the street. He intentionally and irreversibly transformed his status from being a person who provided livelihood to others to someone who would henceforth depend on others to provide him his daily bread. His embracing the despised leper was his way of becoming like Christ, who renounced his divinity and suffered to redeem humanity. Francis had undergone the deepest conversion.
What are the practical implications? Conversion is allowing God to transform us. Conversion is allowing God to mold us into the kind of persons God wishes us to be. Conversion is allowing God to send us wherever God wants to send us. John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, Oscar Romero, and Francis of Assisi are all models of gospel conversion.
This week, reflect on what conversion means for you.
Conversion is for Good People
When we think of conversion, perhaps we think of those “awful people” out there. I might say to myself, “I am a good person. I don’t hurt anybody. I am not a murderer, or an adulterer, or a thief, or a racist.” But, you see, neither were John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, Oscar Romero, or Francis. They were all good people living ‘normal’ lives. But they responded to the gospel’s call to radical conversion. The greatest danger we can fall into is to think that conversion is for “them.” Conversion is for good people too.
The practical implication here is that Francis of Assisi, especially, teaches us that our life can such that it does not explicitly ignore Christ but nevertheless functions as if he had never existed.
If God could have God’s way with us as God did with John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, Oscar Romero, and Francis, what would that look like?
Let me conclude with today’s Gospel story of the fig tree that did not bear fruit. The gardener pleaded that the fig tree is not cut down. Rather, the gardener promised to tend the tree and fertilize it even more so that it may bear fruit. Today’s readings are demanding and challenging. But God is not a harsh, detached, disengaged God who sits somewhere up there and demands conversion. God is a compassionate, kind, gentle, and patient God who wants us to become more and more like Christ.
Image: By Cancillería del Ecuador from Ecuador – BEATIFICACIÓN DE MONSEÑOR OSCAR ARNULFO ROMERO, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40561578
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.