For March 3, 2013: 3 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Exodus 3:1-15

The Israelites were led to Egypt by God to escape famine, but then were enslaved. In today’s reading, we see their redemption begin, through a Jew with an Egyptian name, an adopted son of Pharaoh who has fled a murder rap and fallen into the lowliness and anonymity of a back-country sheepherder. God’s grace extends everywhere, even to those who try to dodge God’s call.

The Response            Psalm 63:1-8

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Corinth, on the isthmus between the Aegean and Adriatic seas in Greece, was a thriving port in Roman times—and a hotbed of temptations for the sailor. Paul reminds the Corinthians and us of the abundance of God’s grace in Exodus in order to remind us to honor that grace by living disciplined lives.

The Gospel            Luke 13:1-9

 

Further thoughts

San Diego has been a Navy town for well over a century, and for most of that time the Stingaree was the area south of Broadway in which sailors on liberty were routinely tattooed, fleeced, intoxicated, infected, and more. The tattoo parlors, brothels, flophouses, opium dens, and gambling halls were finally swept away in the 1980s, when urban renewal brought Jon Jerde’s trend-setting Horton Plaza mall amid restored Gay Nineties facades and retro streetlights, and a new name: the Gaslamp. The old name lives on—in a bar that is as genteel and pricey as the old district was rough and cheap.

Today’s readings invoke names and reputations. The grubby shepherd on the flanks of Mount Horeb is a man on the lam, a Jew with a patrician Egyptian name and a rap sheet; he has trained himself to keep his head down, but somehow he just can’t resist that burning bush. His opposite number, Saul of Tarsus, was the Jew’s Jew, righteous about his righteousness, until Jesus knocked him off his high horse and into service to the Gentiles as Paul. And Jesus invokes familiar groups to remind his listeners—and us, in these times of storm, tsunami and sequestration—that bad things can happen to good people and that there truly is a fate worse than death.

Then there is the name of God. הוהי in Hebrew, transliterated YHWH, comes from the puzzling phrase in Exodus 3:14 that the reading gives as “I AM Who I AM”.  YHWH in Judaism is so holy that it is never pronounced; instead it is called “the Name” or the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”), or Hebrew uses another title from Exodus 3:15, Adonai ‘LORD’. Scholars differ as to how exactly to translate YHWH, though ‘HE Who IS’ works. As to the longer phrase, it could as well be rendered “I WILL BE Who I AM”, reflecting God’s unchanging nature, or “I WILL BE Who I WILL BE”, showing God’s willingness to do what it takes to save us, and the truth probably includes both and much, much more.

As to the fate worse than death, it is clearly not the fact of ceasing to breathe, or else Paul would not have contemplated his own demise so calmly. I think then that it must be, to paraphrase the words of one of our post-Communion prayers, failure to do the work God has given us to do to heal and hallow God’s world.

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