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MARCH 3, 2013: THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings: 

Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15
I Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

Carroll Stuhlmueller had an interesting twist on today's well-known Exodus reading.

Most of us presume Yahweh had stationed an angel along the path on which Moses was leading his flock, commissioned to give the "high sign" when the great liberator approached. At the proper moment this special messenger would text one of his cohorts, "Cue the bush!" And the famous bush burst into flame.

Carroll was convinced the bush didn't have an off/on switch. It was always burning. Moses was simply the first person to notice the flames. The late, beloved expert of the Hebrew Scriptures presumed, with millions of such bushes in the Sinai, people stopped looking at them, missing something which made one bush different from all others. Their similarity led people to think they were all the same.

A person of faith lives in the same world in which all of us live, experiences the same people and situations we experience, but is able to surface something in those experiences which most of us never notice. For the authors of Scripture, faith isn't an act of adhering to specific doctrines or dogmas; it's a unique frame of mind with which we approach everyone and everything around us.

Today's I Corinthians reading is one of my favorites, not only because it was once part of my doctrinal comps, but because it zeroes in on what it means to be a person of faith. "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters," Paul writes, "that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea. ..." In other words, all the Israelites who took part in the Exodus experienced the same phenomena. "Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert." For the Apostle, the important thing isn't that you're "there," but what you notice while you're "there."

"These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us .... Those who think they are standing secure should take care not to fall." If we're waiting to make our move until God enters our life in a dramatic, decisive way, we're going to be waiting a long time. God's always been in those lives. But only people of faith have noticed God's presence.

Jesus seems to address the same topic in the first part of today's gospel pericope. In some sense he's saying there's no rhyme or reason why bad things happen. It's not because we're morally better than the victims. That's simply the way the "ball bounces." According to Luke's Jesus, in the midst of such events, instead of placing blame, we should be looking at our own determination to "repent:" to look at people and events as God looks at them. Not an easy frame of mind to acquire.

Yet, we follow a patient God, someone who hangs in with us long after others have given up. Instead of immediately cutting us down when we bear no fruit, our God continues to cultivate and fertilize the ground around us, always hoping we'll bear fruit in the future.

Instead of worrying about flunking catechism exams, we should be more concerned about flunking a vision exam. It's clear from today's three readings that God's more concerned with what we see than in what we know.

I presume Carroll Stuhlmueller now knows whether his burning bush hypothesis is correct or not. Yet it really doesn't matter. The thousands, like myself, whom he taught through the years always benefited more from his biblical vision than from his historical knowledge.