The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 16, 2001 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Mysterious God reaches out to us

God is ever present, but the meaning of God's actions often eludes us

March 18, Third Sunday of Lent

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

God is a mystery. Sometimes we like to think we have God all figured out and then we come to an unexpected situation and God is before us but behind a cloud which obscures our vision. God, in the mind of the biblical writers was present to them but always incomprehensible. God asked Job where and who he was thinking that he could understand.

Our first reading is one in which Moses asks for God's name. God had been known as the God of the Fathers, or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Job. On the holy mountain where Moses finds a burning bush, that is not consumed, he encounters this mysterious God. It is a place where God will be known in a new and wonderful way. God will be the savior of the people of Israel rescuing them from the slavery of Egypt. God reveals a name, which still today is mysterious. It is translated in a variety of ways. The name sometimes is translated as "I am who am."This may mean God is the source of all created beings. Another translator has suggested "I am always" emphasizing God's continuing active involvement in the lives of people.

So God is a mystery and the actions of God often elude us in terms of their meaning. Yet we also know that God has taken the initiative and reaches out to us. This invitation is a gift of God and invites our response. Paul, in his Letter to the Corinthians, our second reading, points to the fact that the people of Israel when they were in the desert, even after being rescued and cared for, grumbled against God. And so they were punished. God would punish infidelity if people failed to respond to their call. The Corinthians are warned that they too must be responsible for their actions and realize that the wonderful gifts of faith they have received are no guarantee of God's continued favor. If they, like the Israelites of old, did not respond then they too might expect punishment. The lesson is that being a Christian requires corresponding Christian living.

The Gospel reading from Luke recalls a past historical incident in which some Galileans were killed even as they sacrificed to God. We don't know anything about this incident but it sounds authentic for Pilate is known for his brutality. Jesus used this incident as a call to repentance. The horror of this event plus the story of an accident points to the need to be prepared to face God. One should be reconciled with God for one does not know when such a tragedy might occur.

Jesus tells a parable to illustrate his point. It is taken from the real life of people in his time. Typically the owner of a fig tree might expect after three years of careful tending of the tree that it should produce fruit. When it doesn't, I suppose the owner expected that the tree would never be fruitful and should be chopped down. Jesus says that a worker in the vineyard who tended the tree suggested that it be given one more year to produce fruit. Jesus does not say what happened and we can presume that after the extra year a final judgement would be made to save or destroy the tree.

The point Jesus was making as the whole of our readings are making, is that God gives us time to respond to the call to authentic responsible living. Yet God's love is a tough love, as we in modern terms call it. Opportunities are not endless. We, in the end, will be judged.

(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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