In today’s gospel passage from Luke, Jesus shocks his listeners by telling them that their sins are just as bad as those of a particular group of Galileans punished by Pilate and also eighteen famous citizens of Siloam, whose tremendous suffering Jesus’ audience judged to be due to their great sins. “No,” Jesus declares, “your sins deserve the same punishment!” Is this not another way of Jesus teaching us “judge not lest you yourself be judged”—”condemn not, lest you be condemned”? Certainly it is. (And certainly the air these days is rife with judging and condemning.) And yet we persist. The problem is that we are so conditioned culturally that our judging and condemning does not strike us as sometimes outrageous—outrageous, because we have not even walked a yard, let alone a mile, in the person’s shoes who we are judging and condemning. Jesus saw the judgment of the people he was addressing as “over the top,” and so does he often know our judging and condemning as overly excessive. Coming to a conclusion about another’s state before God often gives us sense of conclusion and security, but it is St. Paul, the super-catechist of the New Testament, that warns us, “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” At some point, our own judgments need to surrender to God as the only just judge. It is exactly at this point that we are able to move on.
As our Lenten retreat continues and Jesus points the way to conversion—a tough road indeed at times—we may be encouraged by Jesus walking with us, his companionship. In Exodus, we heard a most amazing thing: Moses asked for God’s name, and God gave it to him! The best way I can bring home the significance of God revealing God’s self by name, is simply to print two words—IDENTITY THEFT. Most sensible people are most careful these days about giving out their personal information, because, in the wrong hands, that information is power. Yet God gives his name, “I AM” (strange as it may sound), as gift and trust to Moses and the Chosen People. It makes Moses and the Hebrews feel exponentially more personal with and bonded to God. For us however the gift becomes so much more profound as Jesus reveals God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because now we may call upon God with praise, thanksgiving, and petition IN JESUS NAME.
So this Third Sunday of Lent offer us two significant opportunities: 1) to come to terms that we are not on firm ground in our human and imperfect attempts to judge and condemn and that we are even liberated when “we give it to God”; and 2) to realize how awesome it is to call upon God—in Jesus’ name—especially when it concerns our own conversion! Combined, these two opportunities are a clear and sure path to personal humility—the place where we stand to receive God’s transforming grace. The Blessed Mother understood this. St. Rita understood this. Can we understand and embrace it!