Sunday, 24 March 2019 : Third Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third in the season of Lent, we heard of God’s call to His people, that each and every one of us ought to heed, as we continue to live our lives in this world. He is calling on each and every one of us to reform our way of life and to turn away from sin, that each and every one of us may be saved from our current wretched state, and be worthy of God’s grace and love.

In the first reading today, we heard of the calling of Moses, when God appeared before him at Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, as he was shepherding his flock. The Lord appeared to him as a burning bush that miraculously was not burnt by the fire. Moses approached the burning bush and God called him from within the fire, revealing to him Who He was, and what His will was for Moses, the calling He made to him to be the leader of His people, Israel.

In order to understand this better, we need to understand the context and the historical condition of the time, that is, at the time, the Israelites have been living in Egypt for a few centuries after their forefathers came there to escape the great famine of the time of Joseph, son of Jacob. The Israelites flourished in Egypt, and their numbers grew rapidly, but this created fear among the Egyptians and their Pharaohs, who then enslaved the Israelites and tried to destroy them as a race.

Moses was one of the male children of the Israelites who were supposed to be killed in accordance to the law meted by the Egyptians in trying to destroy the people of Israel. But Moses was saved when his mother put him in the basket in the water, and the daughter of the Pharaoh saved him from the waters, adopting him to become her own son. Later on, as Moses grew up, he saw the injustice and the oppression that his own people had to experience, and in one occasion, murdered one of the guards who were torturing one of the Israelite slave.

As a result, Moses had to flee from Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai, as the Pharaoh and his guards wanted him for his murder of the Egyptian. There in the desert, Moses found a new life as a shepherd and married into a Midianite family. It might have seemed that Moses would remain there till the end of his life, while the Egyptians would continue to enslave and oppress the Israelites, God’s own chosen people.

But God had an entirely different plan, as what we have heard today from our first reading passage. God called Moses to become His instrument to bring His people out of their slavery in the land of Egypt, and lead them towards the Promised Land which God has promised to Abraham, to Jacob and his descendants. This is God’s plan, and He revealed it all before Moses at the burning bush, calling on him to be His servant.

Initially, Moses had his reservations, as he was not sure how the Israelites would welcome him or know his purpose in Egypt, the land he had fled from many years ago in fear of his own death. But God reassured him and told him that He would be with him, and He revealed His Name before Moses, to be told to the Israelites as the sign that God has not forgotten His people after all the years of suffering that they had gone through, but would free them and lead them to their own land as He had promised.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings have deep meaning and revelation to each and every one of us as Christians, those whom God had called from among the world, to be His disciples and followers, servants and friends. God called on us to follow Him just as Moses had been called and led by God to be the leader of His people, Israel. Therefore, there are two main messages that we have to heed from these passages today.

First of all, we must endeavour to be free from the chains of slavery that we have suffered from all these while. We may be wondering these questions in our minds right now, ‘We are slaves? We do not know about that, I thought we have always been free?’ or that ‘How can we be slaves if we are not suffering in this world, but instead we live in abundance and plenty of happiness and joy in this world, being prosperous and good in all things?’

That is because many of us perhaps do not even realise that each and every one of us are enslaved, right now, because of our sins. Slavery of sin has enthralled us all, and the chains of sin have kept us from truly being free in the Lord. Every time we disobey God, we sin against Him, and this sin keeps us chained to even more sin, and the desires, greed, pride, ego, jealousy, hatred and all negative things inside us keep us bound to the bondage of sin.

And we cannot free ourselves from the bondage of sin, for no one can forgive and remove from us our sins, except that of God Himself. Fortunately, God is so loving and so forgiving towards us all, His beloved children, that just as He sent Moses to the Israelites as a deliverer and liberator, He has sent Jesus Christ, His own beloved Son, to be our Saviour and Liberator from sin. He extends to us His generous love and mercy through Christ, Our Saviour.

Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, the land of their slavery, and made a Covenant between them and God. Similarly, Christ Our Lord also led us all out of the land of our slavery, that is sin and darkness, and made a new and Eternal Covenant between us and God. And while Moses brought the Ten Commandments, God’s Law to the Israelites, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the Law and the fulfilment of the Law of God, that He revealed before us all.

Through Christ, we have been forgiven our sins, and He has lovingly sacrificed Himself, bearing for us the burdens and chains of our sins. But unfortunately, we are often still consciously wanting to bind ourselves back to those chains of sin, just as if we read the rest of the Book of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Numbers, how the Israelites continuously grumbled and complained against God and Moses, rebelling against Him and thus sinned.

They argued that it was better for them to have remained in Egypt and therefore remained being slaves, rather than for them to die in the middle of the desert. This was despite the fact that God had cared for them so well, that even in the middle of the desert, God gave them food to eat, the bread of the manna from heaven, and clear and sweet water to drink, and they had all that they needed even in the middle of the barren desert.

That was why they had to journey for forty years in the desert, a long journey before they enter the Promised Land. In the same way, therefore, we live our lives today in parallel with what the Israelites experienced. The Israelites went through the baptism of water, as they passed through the Red Sea that God opened before them, destroying the armies and chariots of the Pharaoh in the sea behind them, as the symbolic sign of their liberation. In the same way, we have been freed from the chains and bonds of sin, through our own baptism.

But along the rest of the journey, in our lives today, we can still be tempted by sin. Our life today, from the moment of our baptism till the end of our earthly life, is like the journey of the Israelites, with all of the challenges and difficulties. The temptations of the devil is all over the place throughout our journey, as the devil, who was our slavemaster, wanted us to be enslaved once again to sin. Yet, God provides for us, just as He has provided for the Israelites.

We heard last Sunday, that our Promised Land is heaven itself, for according to St. Paul, our citizenship is in heaven. And that is the very Promised Land that we are heading towards. God is leading us towards there, but at the same time, if we look at the example of the Israelites again, there were many who did not make it towards the Promised Land because of their refusal to obey, their sins and defiance against God.

That is why, this journey towards God and His eternal glory, our final destination in heaven will not be an easy one. It will be filled with challenges and difficulties, but this is exactly what St. Paul in our second reading today, in his Epistle to the Corinthians reminded us, that God is with us along the way, and we should heed His words and obey His laws, and do not follow the path of the wicked, who will lead only into death and eternal suffering.

In the Gospel today, we are reminded to be fruitful and to bear good fruits, as the Lord in His parable reminded us that those trees that do not bear fruit ought to be cut down and be destroyed. God gives us another chance in this life, just as the gardener pleaded for the trees, to be given more time and fertiliser to grow, that they may grow in due time and produce fruits. Now, it is up to us, whether we want to be fruitful and bear good fruits of our lives, or whether we prefer to remain barren or produce bad fruits.

What are these good and desirable fruits, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is the fruits of love and faith. That is why, today, we are also secondly challenged by God, just as Moses is called by God, to be the leader of God’s people, that each and every one of us may lead one another, our fellow brothers and sisters, by bearing the true faith in ourselves. How can we expect others to believe in the Lord if we ourselves have not believed in Him? And how can others believe if we have not practiced our faith? Anyone who profess to believe in God and yet act in ways opposite to that faith are hypocrites.

That is why, today, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are reminded to make good use of the wonderful opportunity that God has given to us all, by doing what the Church has prescribed for us in this season of Lent, that is to restrain our greed and desire, our pride and ego through abstinence and also fasting. Let us all turn away from our past sins, wickedness, selfish actions and any moments when we have caused hurt and suffering in one another.

And let us also be generous with love and with our giving, in sharing our blessings with those who have little or none to get by with. Let us all not be ignorant of their pleas for help, and be willing and be courageous, like Moses, in answering God’s call to free His people Israel. Moses could have refused the Lord and remained in a good life with his new family, but he chose to follow the Lord and embark on the arduous path, not just in liberating the Israelites, but in leading them for many decades to the Promised Land.

Just as Moses endured so many difficulties, even plenty of people who were not thankful and rude towards him, and how he had to suffer rejection many times, and threats to himself, we too will encounter all these challenges throughout our life and journey towards God. But we must keep heart and remain faithful, for remember, our end point and last destination is heaven, where we truly belong and God will reward all of us who have borne good fruits of faith and love for Him.

May the Lord continue to guide us through this season of Lent, that we may make good use of the opportunities given to us, that we may draw ever closer towards God, and be ever more righteous and upright in all of our actions and deeds. Let us all heed God’s call and commit ourselves to Him, as Moses had once done, and devote ourselves to Him from now on, with hearts and minds full of faith, love and dedication. Amen.