Bible Study: 3 Lent (C)

March 3, 2013

Joe Woodfin, Sewanee

“The gardener replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:8-9)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Exodus 3:1-15

I feel comfortable in assuming that no one reading these notes has ever been confronted by God in the physical form of a burning bush. But we do have vocabulary for talking about being “called” by God or following the “leading of the Spirit.” So why do we not see burning bushes as a matter of course?

Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann notes in “The New Interpreters Bible” (Abingdon Press, 1994) that the language at the beginning of this story warns us to “not expect to understand it through our usual categories.” In fact, if we only focus on the physical details, we might miss the point of the theophany: when he takes his sandals off, Moses is symbolizing his becoming a servant of God. The rest of his life would be spent working out what was originally a grudging consent, at best.

If we take some of the other biblical writers seriously, incendiary shrubbery is not a requirement for a life-changing encounter with God. We can meet God in nature, in meditation, and in other people. And if we take this seriously, we ought to be prepared to recognize that potential all around us. If we are not so prepared, a burning bush might not make the difference, no matter how miraculous the flames.

Where is God trying to appear to you in your life?

Are you ready to be called to something completely unexpected? What excuses are you offering for why you can’t respond to God’s call in your life?

Psalm 63:1-8

This psalm is one whose original usage is debated by scholars. Was it a praise psalm, or a royal psalm, or a psalm of thanks? Or all of these? Regardless of its original setting, it is well suited for a variety of circumstances today. The psalmist plays on the ideas of hungering and thirsting for God, which is not a new concept in the tradition, but a concept rich with meaning nonetheless. The soul that seeks God and meditates on God will be filled “as with marrow and fatness.” This conjures images of the eschatological banquet of Isaiah 25: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast…of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

It is noteworthy that the mouth and lips, which are instruments of eating, play a double role in this metaphor: the same mouth that hungers for God sings God’s praises.

Have you ever experienced a deep hunger for God? Have you ever experienced the contentment of soul that comes from having that hunger filled?

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

St. Paul’s thought progression is sometimes a bit hard to follow. The temptation in considering the passage is to fixate on the amusing depiction of Christ following the Israelites through the wilderness disguised as a rock. But there is more to it than that.

Paul begins this segment of the letter to a mostly gentile audience by calling the Israelites “our ancestors,” which places the church squarely in the line of salvation history of which the exodus was an integral part. He begins with a characterization of their wilderness journey that sounds quite sacramental, but quickly turns to a discussion of their failings, which led to rather severe consequences. It’s hard to see how that big a rhetorical jump can be made in so few phrases, until one remembers one of the motivations for writing the very letter in which this passage is included: the proliferation of immorality in some part of the Corinthian church.

A reading of this text that sees it as smugly supercessionist is possible, and might be justified. However, it might also be considered that Paul is contending that Christ was with Israel on their journey, which is a moving thought. His point then, would not be to denigrate Israel, but to demonstrate a parallel between some in Israel and some in the church. Spiritual food and drink are not sufficient inoculation against immoral behavior – among Israel or the church. The good news, however, is that God is committed to providing an escape route (an exodus, if you like) from the temptation to such behavior. How have you experienced Christ following you on your journey?

Have you experienced a way of escape while in a difficult situation? Can you think of a situation where you did not see any escape route?

Luke 13:1-9

Why do bad things happen to good people? If there is one question that defies a simple theological answer, this is it. But it is a question that needs addressing, especially since it is often cited as the reason why belief in God doesn’t compute.

The answers are multivalent even within biblical documents. The Book of Proverbs, several psalms, and Deuteronomy lean toward a causative relationship: do good and good will follow, do bad and bad will follow. Ecclesiastes suggests that it doesn’t matter anyway, since we’ll all die sooner or later. And Job leads the fight to debunk the idea that people bring the evil things that happen upon themselves.

Luke has Jesus falling squarely in this latter camp. The answers are not simple, but Jesus is clear that calamities, whether human or natural, are not simply the result of bad decisions on the part of those who are afflicted. Jesus doesn’t explain the vicissitudes of life, but he does go one step further: “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” These are not comfortable words.

In all of Luke, temporal prosperity does not equal divine favor. Luke is the gospel that brings us such statements as “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” In Luke’s theology, disposition toward God is what counts, not whatever good or ill might befall someone. If we understand our place in relation to God’s call, we will bear the fruit of repentance.

What does it mean to repent in the context of your life?

What resonates with you in the parable of the fig tree? Are you feeling fruitful at this time in your life?

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