Sunday Sermon for February 28, 2016, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C

Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; 1Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9
In the first reading today we hear the call of Moses. We recall that Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace, but when he killed an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew, he had to flee for his life. After many years of being a nomadic shepherd in the desert, the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush. In this revelation of Himself, God tells Moses that He has heard the cries of the Israelites and has come down to rescue them. Moses, with his unique background, is the one chosen by God to speak to Pharaoh and to lead the people through the desert.

In the second reading today St. Paul reminds us of many of the extraordinary things God did for the Israelites in the desert. He speaks of the cloud, the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous bread and water, and a baptism into Moses. Even after witnessing the power of God as well as the providence of God, the people still did not have either faith or trust in the Lord. In the midst of their hardships the people grumbled against Moses and against God.

St. Paul not only reminds us that most of them died in the desert because of this lack of faith, but of far greater importance to us is St. Paul’s instruction that the things that happened to the people of the Old Testament are an example to us and that the things that were written down about them are to serve as a warning to us. St. Paul them gives us a dire warning: whoever thinks himself to be standing secure should take care not to fall.

Our Lord reiterates some of these same points in the Gospel when He tells the people that if they do not repent, they will perish in a way similar to those who were killed in tragic circumstances. He twice asked the question of whether His hearers thought that, because of the manner in which these people had died, if they were more guilty that anyone else. The obvious answer is negative, but it is so easy for us to point fingers or assume guilt. Perhaps this kind of judging is an attempt to justify ourselves.

The point remains, however, that if these things have been written as a warning to us, we need to pay heed. In this holy time of Lent we are spiritually in the desert. We have two examples of how to deal with this: we have the Israelites and we have Jesus. Our Lord remained faithful and the Israelites proved to be faithless. This does not mean that they did not believe in the existence of God; it means that they were not faithful to Him.

In the desert we are faced with the reality of the self in all its ugliness. In the desert all of the weaknesses come to the fore. Like the people of old, we have the promise that God will not only be with us, but that He will lead us. The problem is that, just like the Hebrew people, we do not have the faith and the trust to follow God. We want to be in control and we whine and complain when things do not go the way that we want them to. This is probably why most of us are not willing to do anything too serious for Lent: we do not want it to become too much like a desert.

However, we are all living in a different kind of desert. The world in which we live has deserted God and has chosen sin and selfishness. This has affected every one of us to some degree. The difference between the desert in which we live our daily lives and the desert through which the Chosen People wandered is that their’s was a place of hardship and suffering. Ours is one of selfishness and pleasure. They grumbled about their circumstances and wanted to get out of them; many of us grumble against God, but we like our circumstances and do not want to get out.

We would prefer to live in the desert without God rather than to leave the desert in order to follow God. If we follow the Lord He will lead us into a spiritual desert because that is what is best for us. It purifies us and it teaches us to rely on Him. The desert Satan creates is one filled with self and devoid of God. The desert God creates is filled with God and devoid of self. Our weakness makes us want to choose the easier and more selfish path. You choose, but remember the two points from above: what was written is as a warning to us; repent or you will perish the same way.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit