A Lent Filled With Voices
The Scripture readings presented to us during this Lenten Season are filled with many voices. It is indeed the nature of the world that we live in and even more so today with electronic communications that we hear about how to understand and how to live life in our world from many sources. Think back just a moment to what we have already heard in the first and second Sundays of Lent.
One of the powerful voices that seeks to gain a hearing in our world is the voice of the great tempter. Again and again in the life of Jesus, voices arose: just feed the people; do great miracles; just seize power and all things will be well. Jesus’ journey in the desert was a time to confront these voices. Over and over again, Jesus listens to a different voice, the voice of His Father expressed in the Scriptures of the people of Israel: “One does not live on bread alone;” “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test;” “You shall worship the Lord, your God and him alone shall you serve.” Notice carefully that the tempter also quotes Scripture. Indeed it is quite possible to take this word or that phrase and turn it into meaning anything that you want. Meeting the Word of God in Scripture is about much more than quoting this phrase or that. We must immerse ourselves in the words and the story and together as a people discern what is real wisdom; what is the truth we are hearing.
This principle is also operative in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration given on the Second Sunday of Lent. As Jesus visits the summit of Mt. Tabor with his disciples Peter, James and John, it says that Moses and Elijah appeared to him. This moment is about more than two other worldly figures appearing out of nowhere. It is impossible for us to even begin to describe what happened that day. But it is not so impossible for us to imagine that Jesus had been in dialogue with Moses and Elijah throughout His life. Born in this world as one of us in all things but sin, Jesus inherited the great tradition of the prophet Moses. This is a story of a people trapped in affliction and their deliverance – not through the power of Moses, but through the power of God through the cooperation of Moses. Jesus clearly knew from Moses that the peoples of this world do become trapped and exiled – sometimes by their own choice; sometimes simply by accident. In either case people need someone to deliver them. And Jesus knew well the stories of the prophet Elijah. Sent to help a people recover their identity and their way of life, Elijah carried a heavy burden. People, especially kings and people in power, do not like to hear that they have fallen prey to greed, or power, or selfishness. Those who must be faithful to this task of speaking truth to power will endure hardship and suffering beyond imagination. This moment on Mt. Tabor was a time for Jesus to make his own the mission of deliverance and the mission of proclamation of repentance for life lived without connection to God. Because Jesus chose to listen to the voices of old who served the people of Israel, we know that the disciples present experienced an utter transformation. Jesus shone with the radiance of God. And this moment translated into action – Jesus descends from the mountain and enters into the darkness of the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. A journey which for Jesus was not to end in death but through death to inaugurate the dawning of God’s new kingdom on earth as in heaven.
More voices are presented to us in this Third Week of Lent. Tragedy happens. A great tower had fallen upon some of the people of the town of Siloam. As is the case in any kind of natural disaster, people search for meaning. Why? Again, some Galileans had been subjected to the ruthless tyranny of Rome. How quick we are to forget that it has been rare in history for people to be able to live under a rule of law as we do now. In the time of Jesus, people lived under the rule of tyrants. Whether they feared a danger to their power or to civil order, the rule of power dispenses with any threats with public cruelty, violence and death. Again voices are raised – how can this happen? What can we do? And as in such cases, when attempting to grapple with tragedy, the voices which can become the loudest often have quick, simple easy explanations. Let’s find someone to blame, or let’s give up on this project altogether.
Jesus rejects such facile attempts to seek understanding or to abandon what seems like a difficult project. He offers us a parable – a story which provides an alternative way to think about things. We do live in an imperfect world where tragedies happen and powerful people exert violent affliction on the undeserving. But we also live in a world where the justice and mercy of God never fails. Again and again an owner of a vineyard expects fruit from trees in his time. The faithful gardener cautions patience. In a simple story Jesus invites us not to give up on this broken world, for God has not abandoned it or gone silent. Jesus himself becomes the loving, living voice which reminds us that we can abjure violence; we can be compassionate. Listen always in every moment for the voice of God.