Saturday 27 February 2016

Sunday. February 28, 2016 - Third Sunday in Lent - Questions without answers

To read the texts click on the texts:Ex 3:1-8,13-15; 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9

In William Shakespeare’s play. “Hamlet”, there is a scene in which Hamlet says to his friend, Horatio: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. Hamlet could well have been talking about God. No matter how much we think we know about God, he will always remain a mystery. We will know only so much and no more. There will always be more to know. The readings of today highlight this reality.

The first reading of today narrates Moses’ encounter with God. This encounter is one of both revelation and concealment. God was, is, and will be, and yet, this is not all that God is. Moses would never be able to fully understand or fully comprehend who God really is. Even so, the “name” of God reveals power, fidelity, and presence. God is revealed through this “name” as one who is able to make something from nothing, one who can make the impossible, possible. God is revealed as one who will remain faithful, even in the face of infidelity, and one who will be eternally present to people. God will be there when called upon. God will help when asked.

In the Gospel reading of today, Jesus makes a similar point about the mystery of God. Here, the point made is about God’s action. We can never fully understand God’s ways. There is no answer to the question of why the Galileans, whom Pilate had killed, had to die or, why it was that the specific group of eighteen, on whom the Tower of Siloam fell, had to be crushed under it. Our finite minds can never come up with plausible and believable answers to these questions. They will remain mysteries. Yet, in the parable of the fig tree, and even more, through the life and mission of Jesus, God is revealed as one who is willing to give humans a chance to improve, God is revealed as one who will continue to wait for humans to return to him. Since this is so, rather than speculate on the question why, Jesus invites the people to repentance.

The repentance that Jesus calls the people to is a change of mind, heart, and vision. It is a practical rather than speculative response to God and to life. It is an attitude that realizes that we will never have the answers to all the questions that we can ask. We will never be able to answer credibly why one person is stricken with the dreaded disease of cancer while another is healthy. We will never be able to answer plausibly why one mother should deliver a still born baby and another, a baby full of life. We will never be able to answer believably why a young person dies in an accident because of the negligence of someone else and why another, in the same vehicle, survives. In the face of conundrums like these, there is but one response. That response is to accept what happens as God’s will and plan for us. This does not mean that we develop a fatalistic attitude. This does not mean that we must do nothing but accept our fate. It does not mean that we must throw our hands up in despair because there is no use at all. Rather, it means a response of faith and trust in a God who will always do what is best for us.

Paul speaks of this response in the second reading of today when he interprets the Exodus event. At the time it happened, the people who went through it were not able to comprehend it. They complained and grumbled. They thought that God was not on their side. They thought God was unconcerned about them and their plight. Yet, as has been shown, God was on their side, even when they could not feel or see God’s presence as tangibly or as readily as they would have liked. God continued to go ahead of them, lighting their path and guiding their way. God was always present, even when they did not know it. The challenge for the Corinthian community is to learn from this event that God does not abandon people. Even in the face of the severest trials, even in the face of the hardest hardships, even in the face of the sternest challenges, God is there and does provide a way.

This remains the challenge for us, even today. Though science and technology have made much progress, and though we have found answers for many questions which we did not know earlier, it is also true that there remains a great deal that we do not know. There are, indeed, more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies and theologies.

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