Some of the deepest questions we ask about God are often answered in the scripture readings we listen to at Mass. For example, we ask sometimes if God is punishing us in tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or those occasional acts of violence that suddenly happen. That’s the question Jesus answers in today’s gospel (Luke 13,1-9) as his listeners wonder why 18 people were killed when a tower fell on them, or why were people allowed to die in some riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down by slaughtering everyone in sight.
Jesus tells them God’s not punishing the people who were involved in those tragedies. Tragedies are part of life; they’re sharp reminders that life on earth isn’t permanent or without risk. Jesus says you have to be ready for the moment that God calls you. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls;” it tolls for you and for me.
Another question we ask is quite different. Does God care about us at all? And here we can turn to the 1st reading from the Old Testament about Moses and his vision of God on Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3, 1-15) Moses at the time was a man on the run. He’d killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt to hide as a shepherd in the Sinai desert. His people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt.
As he ascends the mountain tending his sheep, he sees a burning bush and suddenly hears a voice. “Don’t come any nearer. Take the shoes off your feet; you’re on holy ground…I’m the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses was afraid, a normal reaction to God who is beyond anything we know.
But then God begins to speak words of love and concern.
“I know the affliction of my people in Egypt; I hear their cries of complaint against their slave drivers; I know well what they are suffering.
So I’ll rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
“I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” God says. “I have ties with the world before you were born and I will care for the world when you are long gone.”
The encounter that Moses has on the mountain is our encounter with God too.
We know what followed Moses vision on Mount Horeb. He returns to Egypt and with God’s help brings his people out of Egypt. God’s presence isn’t always obvious as they journey through the desert for 40 years. But God is faithful and he brings them to “a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey.”
Does God care for us. Yes, he does.
As we go further into the lenten season, we come to another mountain that’s burning with fire too. We’ll see the sign of a Cross and a man hanging there. He knows our sorrows and shares them too. He’s God come to us, to lead us and all the world from slavery to freedom, in a good land where sorrow and pain are no more, where we will be with our good God forever
3 Sunday of Lent.