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3rd SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle C)

Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095). 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings ~ Covenant Promises and the Call to Repentance
God is faithful in remembering His covenant promises and His judgments are always meant to be redemptive, calling us to repentance and a return to our covenant union with Him so we can produce the "good fruit" of righteousness.  In our First Reading Yahweh tells Moses that He is going to rescue the Israelites from their Egyptian slavery.  He is going to fulfill the covenant promise He made to Abraham, the physical father of His people (Gen 15:13-16; Ex 2:24).

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us that God made His ways known to Moses and worked mighty deeds on behalf of His covenant people in redeeming them from destruction because "the Lord is kind and merciful."  In the Second Reading St. Paul writes that the events of the Exodus redemption were written down for our benefit.  We are to understand those events in the crossing of the Red Sea and the miracle feeding of the manna in the wilderness as a foreshadowing of our exodus out of sin, our re-birth into the New Covenant in the Sacrament of Baptism, and our feeding miracle of spiritual food and drink in the Eucharist on our journey to the Promised Land of Heaven.  And like those children of Israel in the Exodus who refused to repent and broke their covenant with Yahweh, we will also perish in the wilderness of sin if we refuse to repent our sins and remain in obedience to our covenant union with Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel Reading Jesus also gives us a warning in the Parable of the Fig Tree.  The fruitful fig tree and the fruitful vine were Old Testament symbols for Israel in covenant union with Yahweh (Is 5:1-7; Jer 8:3; 24:1-10).  But the unfruitful, barren fig tree and vine symbolized Israel's failures to produce the "good fruit" of repentance and righteousness—the judgment of which was covenant judgment and destruction.  In Jesus' parable the owner of the orchard wants the gardener to cut down the fruitless fig tree, but the gardener asks for the fig tree to be given one last season to produce fruit.  In the same way, Jesus was giving the covenant people one more "season"—one last opportunity to bear the "good fruit" of repentance as evidence of their return to God (Lk 3:8). 

 Our relationship with God is not static; it must be defined by continual conversion and spiritual growth.  Lent is the time to make a serious evaluation of our progress on the journey to salvation—it is our season of repentance and renewal.  Are you prepared to be confronted by God like Moses in the First Reading?  Are you open to St. Paul's serious warning in the Second Reading that whenever we think we are standing secure we may be in danger because we are neglecting the Lord's call to continual repentance and conversion?  And are we bearing the "good fruit" of faith demonstrated by the works necessary to please God that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel reading?

The First Reading Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15 ~ Moses' Encounter with God
1 Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian.  Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  2 There an angel of the LORD [YHWH] appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush.  As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed.  3 So Moses decided, "I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned."  4 When the LORD [YHWH] saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses!  Moses!"  He answered, "Here I am."  5 God said "Come no nearer!  Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.  6 I am the God of your fathers," he continued, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob."  Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  7 But the LORD [YHWH] said, "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.  8a Therefore I have come down to 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." [...].  13 Moses said to God, "But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?"  14 God replied, "I am who am."  Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you."  15 God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD [YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.  This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations."

Mt. Horeb is also called Mt. Sinai (31 times in the Pentateuch, beginning in Ex 16:1).  It is possible that Mt. Horeb was the Midianite name of the mountain where Moses saw the burning bush, but perhaps the name of the holy mountain became known to the Israelites as "Sinai" after the theophany of the burning "bush," or "tree," which in Hebrew is rendered sene.  The burning tree will become an emblem of the manifestation of Yahweh's spirit indwelling the desert Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple.  In the Book of Genesis God manifested His visible presence to Abraham in the ratification covenant ritual in Genesis chapter 15 in the form of fire.  In the covenant ratification ceremony in Genesis 15:17 God walked between the bodies of the sacrificed animals in the form of a flaming torch and a burning brazier.

In Moses' first supernatural encounter with the God, there are three parts of the manifestation of the Divine: 

  1. the angel of Yahweh
  2. the voice of the God of the patriarchs
  3. the unquenchable fire that does not burn up the bush/tree

This is the first time God's holy covenant name, YHWH/Yahweh, is used in the Book of Exodus.  The first person in Scripture to use God's Divine Name is Eve in Genesis 4:1.  It is the angel of "Yahweh" who is described as appearing to Moses in the flames (verse 2), but in verse 6 the voice Moses hears from within the burning bush identifies Himself as the voice of the God of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, believed the angel of Yahweh was a manifestation of the pre-Incarnate Christ who was active in the plan of salvation before He became God enfleshed.  They also believed that the Most Holy Trinity was present in the manifestation: God the Son was present as the angel of Yahweh, the voice from the bush identified as the God of the Patriarchs was God the Father, and the fire that did not consume the bush was God the Holy Spirit.

The three elements of God's manifestation in the burning bush linked to the Most Holy Trinity:
Manifestation Persons of the Most Holy Trinity
1. The voice of the angel of Yahweh 1. Pre-Incarnate God the Son
2. The voice of the God of the patriarchs 2. God the Father
3. The unquenchable fire that does not burn up the bush/tree 3. God the Holy Spirit

See CCC 202, 205-209, 255, 259, 689, 696 (fire a symbol of the Holy Spirit).

Some Church Fathers also identified the burning bush/tree as a thorn bush—a reminder of the sin of Adam and the curse in Genesis 3:18, as well as an illusion to Jesus' victory over the curse by wearing the symbol of that judgment in the crown of thorns that He wore to His crucifixion in Matthew 27:29 (St. Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator 2.8.75).

Calling to Moses from the burning bush, God warned Moses to take off his sandals and not to come near.  These instructions are similar to the instructions that the captain of the army of Yahweh will give Joshua forty years later as Joshua stood near the walls of Jericho when Joshua was told by the Angel of Yahweh: "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy."  And Joshua did so (Josh 5:25).

It was dangerous for Moses or any human to come too near to God.  Only Jesus Christ could step across that holy threshold.  Jesus of Nazareth, the man who is God enfleshed, did not warn men and woman to keep their distance, instead He urged them to come closer, even offering the wounds in His hands for St. Thomas to feel His torn flesh and believe.  Through His perfect sacrifice, death and resurrection He had the power to bring redeemed mankind into the Father's presence, saying: "Here am I and the children God has given me" (Heb 2:13).  Moses covered his face (verse 6b).  He did this because he recognized that he was in the presence of a deity, who identified himself as the God of his forefathers. Moses covered his face in reverence and in fear. 

In verses 7-8 God gives Moses three assurances:

  1. God assured Moses that He knew of the suffering of the Israelites at the hands of the Egyptians.
  2. He heard their prayers.
  3. It was God's intention to become personally involved in the redemption of Israel and the restoration of Israel to the land promised to Abraham by sending Moses as His agent of liberation. 

In verse 13 Moses asks for the name of the deity who is addressing him.  Moses had been exposed to the various gods of Egypt and had seen their priests perform "signs" and "wonders" offered as proof of the deity's power (see Ex 7:11).  The priests of other Near Eastern deities also had wonders to offer to display the power of their gods (Dan 14:1-27).  What proof did Moses have to present to the Israelites that it really was the God of the patriarchs who revealed Himself and gave Moses the authority to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.  Moses offers the deity who has addressed him a test of His true identity: could He give a name by which the Israelites knew Him?  If the deity gave a name known to the patriarchs the deity is legitimate.  If it is a name Moses did not know, then this entity cannot be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In verses 13-15 God reveals His Divine Name to Moses.  It was the name by which Abraham addressed God (Gen 15:2, 7-8). Ancient Hebrew was written only in consonants; hence the four consonants YHWH, which scholars believe would have been pronounced "Yah-way," is what was written in the most ancient text of this passage.  The "four letter word," known as the Tetragrammaton, is believed by scholars to be the third person masculine singular form of the ancient Hebrew verb hwh, the verb "to be" (Propp, Exodus, page 192-193; Davis, Studies in Exodus, pages 72-73; Navarre, Pentateuch, pages 258-259.

The four Hebrew consonants YHWH are presented in Scripture as God's holy covenant name.  God significantly tells Moses: This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations." (Ex 3:15b)Of all the names for God in Scripture it is this form of His name that is the most frequently used in the Bible (about 6,800 times; Elohim is used about 2,600 times).  These four Hebrew characters, YHWH = yad, hay, vav ("v" in Hebrew can also be rendered "w" in English), and hay is known as the "Tetragrammaton" or "tetragram", meaning "the four letter word."  Biblical scholars do not know how YHWH was originally pronounced; "Yah-way" is the best scholarly guess.  Later, God's Old Covenant people treated God's name with great reverence, declaring it too holy to be spoken aloud (despite God's command in Ex 3:15).  Speaking God's covenant name was restricted to the priests and people worshipping in God's Temple in Jerusalem, and every worship service was concluded by the priests pronouncing God's Divine Name over the people in the final benediction of the daily services.  And so with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, God's holy covenant name was no longer spoken and the correct pronunciation of the name was lost. 

But what does the Tetragrammaton, "YHWH," mean?  Biblical scholars have been arguing about the meaning of YHWH for centuries.  Since biblical names generally have a discernible meaning, scholars have believed that YHWH can be reasonably translated.  Based on etymology and context most scholars have agreed that YHWH is an archaic form of the verb "to be" (hwh in Hebrew, pronounced "hawah") and should be translated "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be," or for those scholars who believe the verb is in the causative imperfect masculine singular form: "He causes to be; brings into existence; He brings to pass, He creates" (Propp, Studies in Exodus, page 72-73).  When God identified Himself as "Yahweh," Moses not only had proof of God's identity as the God of his fathers by the holy covenant name known to the patriarchs, but it was a name which revealed the true nature and essence of God—the deity who has always existed, who will continue forever and who will be with Moses and Israel in their struggles (see CCC 203-209). 

Titles identify the power and authority of the person who has the title, but in the Bible the name of an individual or a deity expressed the true nature and essence of its bearer (see 1 Sam 25:25).  St. Peter made the statement that those who desire to accept God's gift of salvation must accept Jesus Christ as Savior: "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; quoted from CCC 432).  Peter didn't mean salvation can be won by simply saying Jesus' name, or expressing belief in His "name".  He meant that to claim Jesus' gift of salvation in His "name" is to accept on faith everything He taught about Himself and everything Sacred Scripture and the Church (Christ's vehicle of salvation) professes to be true about Him.  This includs His fully human and divine nature, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the Father, and His power to save all humanity from eternal death by giving them the gift of eternal life, through His "name" (CCC 430-435, 452).

Applying the meaning of YHWH as "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be" contextually fits the passages in Exodus 3:13-15a:
13 Moses said to God [Elohim], "But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God [Elohim] of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?"  14 God [Elohim] replied, "I am who am."  Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you."  15 God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD [YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.  This rendering also agrees with Exodus 3:6 where God said: "I AM the God of your ancestors," he said, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."  It agrees with Jesus' I AM statements in the fourth Gospel; for example when He said: "In all truth I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I AM" (John 8:58).   It agrees with God's revelation of Himself to the Apostle John in the last Bible book, the book of Revelation: John, to the seven churches of Asia: grace and peace to you from Him who is, who was, and who is to come... (Rev 1:4), and it agrees with the Greek Septuagint translation in Exodus chapter 3: ego e'imi –"I AM" (Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 73).

Jesus used the words "I AM" in the Gospel of St. John twenty-six times.  Jesus also identified Himself in St. John's Gospel using seven "I AM" statements with a predicate nominative and four "I AM" statements without a predicate nominative.  In any event, Moses must have recognized the name YHWH because he did not object that the patriarchs knew their God by a different name, and he appeared to be satisfied with God's answer.

Responsorial Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11 ~ The Lord is Merciful
The Response is: "The Lord is kind and merciful."
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.  2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
3 He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your wills.  4 He redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion
6 The LORD secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed.  7 He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel.
8 Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.  [...] 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.

In this psalm, attributed to David, the psalmist desires to praise God with his entire being (verses 1-2).  He is grateful for God's mercy and calls upon those reading his psalm to join with him in remembering all God blessings in verses 3-6:

  1. God pardons all our sins.
  2. God heals all our spiritual ills.
  3. God redeems our souls from destruction (Sheol, the abode of the dead).
  4. God crowns our lives with His merciful covenant love and compassion.
  5. God will secure justice and the rights of the oppressed in the Final Judgment.

Verse 6 is the theme of this psalm—God's steadfast love and mercy are revealed in His justice for the oppressed.

The psalmist also recalls God's might works in Israel's history when He revealed Himself to Moses and God's works in the Exodus liberation on behalf of the children of Israel.  He even recounts the attributes that God revealed to Moses in Exodus 34:6 (verse 8).  Then in verse 11 the psalmist emphasizes the enormity of God's mercy towards those who are obedient and fear offending Him. 

The way we demonstrate our obedience of faith and fear a of offending God is in continual repentance and renewal of our covenant relationship with the Lord God in the Law of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus through love of God and love of neighbor.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12 ~ Overconfidence Can Lead to a Failure to Repent
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them and the rock was the Christ.  Yet God was no pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.  [...].  These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.  Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.  These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come.  Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.

In this part of his letter, St. Paul warns the self-assured and proud Christians of the church at Corinth that they should learn from events in the history of Israel in the Old Testament.  He uses the example of the Exodus out of Egypt and the wilderness journey to the Promised Land. Paul recalls the miracles of the Exodus out of Egypt:

  1. God leading the Israelites in the form of a Pillar of Cloud (Ex 13:1-22).
  2. The miracle crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14:15-31).
  3. The miracle feeding of the manna (Ex 16:13-15).
  4. The miracle of the water that flowed out from the rock (Ex 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13).

St. Paul interprets the miracle of the Cloud and the Red Sea as symbolizing two aspects of Christian Baptism: the Holy Spirit and the water (Jn 3:3, 5).  Paul calls the manna and the water from the rock "supernatural" food and drink because they are symbols of the Eucharist (Jn 6:48-51).  He declares that the "rock" that followed them and gave the water was Christ!  In the Old Testament "rock" was sometimes used as a title for Yahweh (Dt 32:4, 15, 18; 2 Sam 22:32; 23:3; Is 17:10; etc.).  As he does in Romans 9:33; 10:11-13; and Ephesians 4:8, "St. Paul applies the title "rock" to Jesus Christ, signifying the prerogative of Yahweh to Jesus and pointing to His divinity.  By writing that the rock who is Christ "followed them" Paul is claiming that the pre-Incarnate Christ was active in the Exodus liberation and redemption that prefigures Christ liberating and redeeming mankind in the exodus out of sin and death that He accomplished in His death and resurrection.

During the journey, God protected the children of Israel and worked miracles on their behalf (verses 1-4), but despite the many examples of God's care, the members of the Exodus generation were rebellious and ungrateful.  All of the first generation of the Exodus, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness and never made it to the Promised Land (Num 13:29-30; 26:65). 

St. Paul tells the Christians of Corinth that this should serve as a lesson for them.  The warning is that just being in a covenant relationship with God does not mean we should take our covenant obligations for granted.  Being unfaithful to God runs the risk of divine judgment, like the Israelites of the Exodus generation.  St. John Chrysostom wrote: "God's gifts to the Hebrews were figures of the gifts of Baptism and the Eucharist which we were to be given.  And the punishments meted out to them are figures of the punishment which our ingratitude will deserve; hence his reminder to be watchful" (Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 23).

Luke 13:1-9 ~ A Call to Repentance and the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
1 At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.  2 He said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?  3 By no means!  I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!  4 Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you thing they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?  5 By no means!  But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"   6 And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, 7 he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.  So cut it down.  Why should it exhaust the soil?"  8 He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; 9 it may bear fruit in the future.  If not you can cut it down.'" 

There is no historical record of the two incidents mentioned in verses 1 and 4 outside of the Gospel of St. Luke.  The "Pilate" mentioned in verse 1 is Pontus Pilate the Roman governor of Samaria and Judea (26-36 AD).  That he was the cause of the massacre suggests the Galileans had come to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices at the Temple and were perhaps involved in some protest against Roman rule.  The second tragedy also took place in Jerusalem at a tower near the ritual purification pool of Siloam.  However, Jesus' teaching is clear: the personal sins of the victims were not the immediate cause of either of the tragedies (also see Jesus' teaching in John 9:3).  Jesus asks the crowd to view such tragedies as providential invitations for continual conversion by examining one's own life and relationship to God and responding with humble repentance for one's own sins.  One never knows when a similar tragedy can claim one's life.  In the case of a sudden tragedy, there is no longer the opportunity to repent and make one's life right with God before one has to face God's divine judgment and make a final accounting for one's sins.

Jesus continues with His message on the importance of repentance in verses 1-5 with a story about God's patience with those who have not yet given evidence of repentance (verses 3 and 8) together with a warning about the inevitability of divine judgment in His Parable of the Barren Fig Tree.  The vine or fig tree was one of the reoccurring symbolic images of the prophets and represented God's covenant people Israel.  In the symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets, a fruitful fig tree represented Israel in covenant unity and fidelity with God, but an unfruitful fig tree represented Israel's covenant failure in her mission to serve God and to produce the "good fruit" of her service (see Jer 8:13; 24:1-10 and the charts on the symbolic images of the prophets).

The fig tree is the only fruit bearing tree named in Eden (Gen 3:7).  The fruitful fig tree was a sign of the good things promised the covenant people in the Promised Land (Dt 8:8).  Proverbs 27:18 advises that the person who produces good "fruit" in his life will be blessed by God: He who tends a fig tree eats its fruit, and he who is attentive to his Master will be enriched.  And the prophet Jeremiah compared an Israel under the curse of divine judgment to a fruitless fig tree: I shall put an end to them, Yahweh declares, no more grapes on the vine, no more figs on the fig tree only withered leaves ... (Jer 8:13 NJB). 

In Jesus' parable the owner of an orchard complains to his gardener that for three years the tree has failed to produce fruit and tells the gardener to cut it down.  The gardener urges the owner to leave it for just a little while longer so he can fertilize it in the hope that it will begin producing fruit.  However, if it still failed to bear fruit, then he will cut it down (Lk 13:6-9).  A parable is a symbolic story that presents a teaching using familiar events or circumstances.  Symbolically, God is the owner of the orchard in the parable.  The orchard is the holy land God gave His covenant people and can be compared to the garden in Eden that God gave Adam and Eve, which was also an orchard (Gen 2:8-9).  The fig tree is Israel/the covenant people, and Jesus is the gardener who asks for a little longer to bring the tree to bear "fruit."  You may recall that the children of Israel were not owners of the holy land but were tenants on God's land (Lev 25:23) who could be dispossessed of the land if they were disobedient to God's covenant and followed the ways of their pagan neighbors (Dt 8:18-20).

The Symbolic Imagery of the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
The fig tree God's Old Covenant people—the Jews
The orchard The holy land of Israel
The owner of the orchard God
The gardener Jesus

The reference to the three years the gardener has worked with the tree may refer to three as a number of importance, usually signifying some significant event in salvation history.  It may also be a reference to the three years Jesus has spent "pruning" the false teachings that have led to a rigid misinterpretation of the Law that lacked compassion (Lk 6:1-5, 9-11; 11:37-52; 13:10-16), and His call for the covenant people to bear the good fruit of repentance and to recognize Him as the promised Messiah.  They have failed to bear "good fruit" but, as in the parable, Jesus (the gardener) asks the God (the owner of the orchard and fig tree) for a little more time. 

In this episode, during His final journey to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51), Jesus is making His last attempt to call the covenant people to repentance and for them to acknowledge Him as the promised Messiah.  If they do not bear the "fruit" of repentance and accept their mission to carry the Gospel message of salvation to the Gentiles (Is 66:18-21), it will be time to cut down the barren fig tree that is Old Covenant Israel.  This judgment will come about when Jesus passes His judgment on the "barren fig tree" during His last week in Jerusalem (Mt 21:18-19 and Mk 11:12-14).  It will then be time for the New Covenant prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah to be established (Jer 31:31-34; Lk 22:20; Heb 10:16). 

On Monday of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem, He symbolically curses a fig tree that has no fruit for Him and it withers to the roots (Mt 21:18-21).  Just prior to His Ascension, Jesus will command a faithful remnant of the Jews of the new Israel (Apostles and disciples of the New Covenant Church) to take His Gospel message of salvation to the "ends of the earth"—to the Gentile nations of the world (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).  The Old Covenant was literally "cut down"/came to a final end 40 years after Jesus' Ascension in 70 AD when the Jews revolted against Rome and the Roman army destroyed the Jerusalem Temple.  From that time forward, the commands and ordinances of the Old Covenant for liturgical sacrifices and worship could no longer be observed.  It was only the New Covenant universal Church that continued to offer priests, altars, sacrifice, incense and the sacred meal of communion that unites the people of God.

How can we apply this parable to our Lenten journey?  We must reflect on the condition of our lives.  Are we bearing the good fruit of repentance?  During our forty day journey, are we submitting the "roots" of our lives to the efforts of the Divine Gardener who wants to "prune" away the unfruitful works so that we can be strengthened in our spiritual growth to bear the good fruit that leads to eternal life?

Catechism References for this lesson:
Exodus 3:1-8(CCC 2575); 3:5-6 (CCC 208); 3:5 (CCC 2777); 3:6 (CCC 205, 207); 3:13-15 (CCC 205); 3:14 (CCC 446, 2666, 2810)
Psalm 103:1-4 (CCC 304)
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, (CCC 1094-1095); 10:1-2 (CCC 697); 10:2 (CCC 117); 10:4 (CCC 694); 10:6 (CCC 128); 10:11 (CCC 117, 128, 2175)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright 2013