Psalm 63:1-9, Isaiah 55:1-9, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
One would think looking at today’s readings from Isaiah and Corinthians that you could not have a greater contrast. Indeed I am reminded of the metaphor ‘Carrot and Stick’ where reward and punishment are handed out in equal measure to induce a desired behaviour.
Isaiah is offering all good things to those who turn to their Lord and God. “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon”.
The Lord God is the great provider and forgiver of sins for all who come to him. Then, as a contrast from this hymn to the love of God, we have to turn to what Paul has to say in the passage from 1 Corinthians, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone”.
Paul is warning his followers in Corinth that it is not good enough just to pay ‘lip service’ to God, as those in the past had done. Nor to believe yourself safe from the judgement of God just because you may go to church or pray once a week. Paul holds up to them the salutary picture of those who believed themselves so secure that they no longer bothered to pay attention to the teachings of God.
Perhaps on reflection there is not such a great contrast between Isaiah and Paul. Isaiah reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, and Paul is just using stronger language to say much the same. Turning to God is a lifetime’s discipline, learning his nature and his will, patiently and humbly, over and over again. The great temptation is to take short cuts that can lead to more immediate gratification, and a false feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment, but as Isaiah asks, “Why…..spend your money for that which is not bread?” Your God will always provide for you if you only truly believe and trust in him. As Paul also writes “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it”.
Then we have the somewhat strange passage from Luke, today’s Gospel reading. A passage that is about both repentance and mercy. It sounds as though the people who told Jesus about the death of the Galileans at the hands of Pilate were hoping to provoke Jesus into some kind of angry reaction. If that was the case then they would have been disappointed. Jesus instead faces them with the knowledge of their own mortality. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all perish just as they did”. It is indeed the message that Jesus had been preaching since the start of his ministry. “I am the way and the truth, turn to me”.
Yet time and time again his cry goes unheard, unanswered, even as it does so often today. Then Jesus tells a short parable about a fig tree that for three years had borne no fruit, like so often the word that Jesus brings also ‘bears no fruit’, falling on deaf ears. Yet like the gardener in the parable there is always the hope that in time, another year, with tender care, love and attention, then in the end there might be a successful outcome. For as always, as shown in today’s readings, there is always an invitation for all God’s people, and through him for all the world, all who ask for God’s mercy will receive it. The only step is to accept God as he is, and trust in his never ending abundance.
May this Lent be a time of reflection and preparation for us all, and may we all step closer, in body and spirit, to God and his son our saviour Jesus Christ.