Perhaps in a reaction to a period of history in which it was thought good not to over-praise each other, weâve spent a generation âaffirmingâ each other. It can be difficult, particularly when we are asked to affirm someone who has just bored us to death with the most awful twaddle.
Lent is a difficult time for those of us who are not used to being told we are wrong. As we follow Jesus to the cross, we notice that everyone seems to be judging him. He doesnât seem to be cut much slack. There doesnât seem to be much affirmation, save that of the fickle crowd that easily changes its tune from âKingâ to âCrucify.â
Moses was being very practical in his argument with God at the burning bush. God was telling Moses to go back to the place where he was wanted for murder and tell the tyrant to let Godâs people go. Moses wanted to know by what authority he was being sent.
âMy authority,â says God.
Moses then asks the crunch question. âWho are you?â
God answers: "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.â
The whole theme of todayâs prayer and readings is about the special relationship between God and Godâs chosen people, and the responsibility the chosen people have toward God. Perhaps we have too easily said that God is love, and gives love to everyone, and forgives everyone -- what was once called âcheap grace.â It is not that God isnât all these things. It is that we are called to be more than all these things.
The first thing for us to note today is that we are the baptized members of the Kingdom. God has chosen us. God is with us and nothing can separate us from Godâs love.
In the Gospel today, Jesusâ is being asked about justice. He is being asked about the sort of justice in which we are interested: the justice that affects us. âWhy me?â we all cry. âWhy do innocent people get hurt in an accident?â âWhy do little children get killed in war?â âWhy do I get cancer?â Were innocent people among those killed by the Governor Pilate? Were some of those killed when that tower fell down in Siloam good people?â
Jesus doesnât give them an easy answer. Thatâs the problem.
We want a God who loves us unconditionally -- and that really means we want a God who wants us in our own image. We want a God who lets us be unforgiving. We want a God who lets us write those dreadful e-mail messages weâre sometimes tempted to write. We want a God who lets us be dishonest at work. We want a God who lets us be disruptive at church. We want a God who lets us abuse our families. We want a God who lets us scream for our rights while denying others the same. We want a God who lets us judge, and divide, and moan, and behave as if we were spoiled children.
We donât want St. Paul, miserable old man that he was. We want Jesus
And Jesus says: Repent.
Thatâs his answer to those who asked about Pilateâs massacre and the tower of Siloam. Thereâs no explanation; instead Jesus tells a story. He tells of a gardener who plants a fig tree that grows, is loved and cared for, but produces no figs. The gardeners suggest it should be pulled up. Some might have suggested that as it looked nice it should be left alone. But the owner gives it a year. After that permission is given to weed it.
Now that doesnât sound very âunconditional.â Godâs extraordinary love for us was bought at an unconditional price. Jesus responded to the Fatherâs unconditional love by abandoning everything. Jesus tells us elsewhere that if we are to follow him, we must be cross-bearers. Our response to Godâs love must be to learn to be self-sacrificial, âto give and not to count the cost,â as the old prayer puts it.
All too often we grasp a âusersâ faithâ: âGod loves me unconditionally, therefore in justice I should get â¦â Or âI got saved, therefore I should have money.â We want a God who takes us as we are, lets us become even worse that we are now, and loves us despite who we have become.
We want a God who gives. Do we want a God who dies?