Tag Archives: Pilate

3rd Sunday of Lent

Some of the biggest  questions we have about God are found in the scripture readings at Mass today. Is God  punishing us through tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or  acts of violence that suddenly happen. Does God care?

Those question were asked of  Jesus in today’s gospel. (Luke 13,1-9)  His listeners wonder why 18 people were killed in a recent construction accident in Jerusalem. A tower fell on them? Why did those people  die in a riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down  by slaughtering everyone in sight?

Jesus answers that  God’s not punishing those 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  be ready for the moment that God calls you.

There’s another question, though. Does God care about it 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  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.

I’m preaching a mission at  the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. It begins at all the Masses this weekend. Each evening at 7 I’m preaching during an hour service and at Mass 12.15 each day, Monday to Thursday. I’ll put some material from the mission on this website. Pray for the mission.

The Resurrection

Matthew’s account of the resurrection pays a lot of attention to the soldiers who guard the tomb of Jesus. I think most illustrations of the resurrection in our churches and our books, like the above, follow his account.

There are the soldiers surrounding the tomb, who “became like dead men,”  fearful after an earthquake shook the tomb open and he appeared “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” (Mt 28, 2-4)

Matthew wants to assure us that his disciples didn’t steal Jesus’ body away after his death. That was a story circulating in his day and it circulates today.  But Jesus really died, Matthew claims, and the soldiers are his proof.

When Joseph of Arimathea asks to take the body for burial, Pilate first called the Roman centurion to certify that Jesus was dead, according to Mark’s gospel. ( Mk 15,44-45) The Romans certify his death.

 The Jewish leaders are worried his body would be stolen and ask Pilate for a guard to watch the tomb for three days. Pilate tells them to put their own guard at the tomb, a further assurance the body wont be taken. Often in illustrations the guards are pictured as Roman soldiers, but they are really the same kind of guard who came to seize Jesus in the garden and take him to the Jewish leaders. (Mt 27,64-66) 

When the guards go to them to report the body of Jesus is missing, they are told to say his disciples stole the body while they were asleep. (Mt 28.11-15)  The evangelist extends his resurrection account to make sure we know this.

Jesus really died, and he really rose again.