Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Narrative Lectionary: Peter’s Denial, John 18:12-27 (Psalm 17:1-7)
For this third Sunday in Lent, we begin with the prophet Isaiah’s call to the people who have returned from exile. In 55:1-9, the prophet reminded the people not to return to their daily lives, but instead, to seek God in their daily life and needs: to seek God for the rich food, to remember the covenant God made with their ancestor David. When the people called upon God, other nations would draw to them, people who did not know God. May the unrighteous and wicked return to God, the prophet declares, for the ways of the people, the thoughts of the people, have not been God’s ways and thoughts; God’s ways are beyond what the people have understood thus far.
The psalmist seeks God in Psalm 63:1-8. Like someone lost in the desert without water, the psalmist needs God. They praise God because God’s “steadfast love is better than life.” The psalm invokes the body, needing God to live, a deep hunger that can only be satisfied by God, for they know God has been their help and refuge in times of trouble. The psalmist blesses and sings for joy, because God is the one their soul clings to.
Paul warned the church in Corinth that if they thought they were standing, they’d better watch out that they don’t fall in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Paul was concerned that the church was doing what their ancestors did in the desert—thinking they were God’s people but turning from God’s ways. Paul reminded them to learn from their ancestors who have been set as example, to not assume belonging to the body means one can do anything they wanted to. The church was being tested, Paul declared, and God would not let them be tested beyond their strength, but they must endure and be faithful to God, because the wicked ways of the world were creeping into the way of life in their congregation.
Luke 13:1-9 is a strange passage because we are missing the historical context. At some point, Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, massacred some Galileans, and had their blood mixed in with the sacrifices he made to the Roman gods. Throughout history and in various cultures, when something terrible and tragic happens, there are some who interpret that as God’s divine judgment, that the victims must have done something to deserve it. We have seen this with preachers declaring God’s judgment after hurricanes and tornadoes and other disasters. Jesus said that these Galileans were not worse than anyone else, but that death awaits anyone who doesn’t turn to God. In a similar vein, Jesus spoke about a disaster where a tower in Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. It wasn’t their fault it happened, but death awaits us all. Repenting and turning to God is the only thing that can save us from death having the final word. The second part of this passage is a parable of a fig tree. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is the one who curses the fig tree when he observes it has born no fruit, but in Luke, Jesus tells a parable of a man who planted a fig tree, but it never produced fruit, even after three years. He ordered the gardener to cut it down. However, the gardener pleads to give it one more chance. He will clear around the roots and fertilize it. The owner relents to give it one more chance, but if it doesn’t bear fruit, it will be cut down. Jesus warns the crowds this is their last chance. They have not listened to the prophets before them. They worry and fret about things they have no control over (such as Pilate and the tower that fell) instead of doing the one thing they can control: repenting and turning back to God’s ways.
The Narrative Lectionary continues the events of Holy Week with Peter’s Denial in John 18:12-27. In John’s account, Jesus was taken before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest. Peter and another disciple had followed along, but the other disciple (known as the beloved disciple) went into the courtyard first. When Peter was brought inside, the woman who guarded the gate to the courtyard recognized Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, but Peter denied it. After being questioned by Annas about his teaching, Jesus was struck across the face by one of the police. Then Jesus was bound and taken to Caiaphas, the high priest. Peter, meanwhile, was questioned again about being one of the disciples, but denied it. Peter denied it a third time, even though the person questioning him was a relative of the slave whose ear Peter had cut off and was certain it was him. Then the rooster crowed.
Psalm 17:1-7 is a prayer for vindication from a writer who has avoided the ways of the violent. The psalmist knows they have stayed true and are innocent before God. They call upon God to answer their prayer, knowing they have remained faithful to God, and God will be faithful to them.
Lent is the season when we remember God’s ways and turn back to God. We remember the stories of our ancestors and learn from their lives how God has always remained faithful, even when we have gone astray. We hear the words of the prophets and the teachers in the early church that those who remained true to God knew the fullness of God’s love in their lifetime. Jesus teaches us that our lives without God are dead ends, but we do not need to use the fear of punishment to justify faith. It was not the Galileans fault, or those who died at Siloam. Without God, our lives may come to an end without much hope or meaning. With God, our lives are full, and we know that death does not have the final word.
Call to Worship (from Isaiah 55:1-2, 6)
Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters!
You that have no money,
Come, for there is plenty!
Listen carefully to God,
And delight in rich food that satisfies.
Seek the Lord while God may be found,
Call upon God who draws near.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that the world’s ways lead us astray. We search for bread and wine that never satisfies us, worldly desires that give into worldly measures of success. You call us to Your ways, but we chase the shiny things of this world that have no value in Your realm. May we listen for Your voice and for the true things of this world that matter: the love we have for one another, the way we care for each other and the earth You made, the pursuit of justice in order to establish peace. May we be fed by Your word and satisfied by the wellspring of everlasting life. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
God’s desire for us is greater than any desire we have for the things of the world. God will not stop pursuing you until you turn back. God knows your heart and that you long to be one with God. You are God’s beloved child. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.
Holy One, when we look at the world, our heart breaks. We have failed to care for the earth. We have failed to pursue peace and have allowed violence to run rampant. Most of all, we have allowed others to co-opt Your name and Your words to justify hate. Forgive us all for not speaking up, for not calling out those who have harmed others in Your name. Move us to pursue Your call to justice, especially for the most vulnerable among us, for they know You, and they are Your beloved children. Help us to protect them, to pursue justice, and proclaim Your reign is one of love and never of hate. Amen.