3rd Sunday of Lent (C)
Picture: cc Jeff S. PhotoArt
My dear friends, do you know how to save a doomed duck? The story is told of a wild duck, which was once flying across the sky with the rest of its flock, when it happened to spot a farm down below, where some tame ducks lived together in a barn. Attracted by the pleasant surroundings and the free food, and feeling tired from all the flying, the wild duck decided to rest at the farm, just for an hour or two. But the hour stretched on to a day, the day to a week and, before the duck realised it, several months had passed, and it still had not left the farm.
Then, one day, it saw a flock of wild ducks flying by, and it felt within its heart a stirring of desire, an insistent yearning to join them. So it immediately flapped its wings and rose up into the air. Unfortunately, the months of inactivity on the farm had made the duck fat and heavy, and it could rise no higher than the roof of the barn. Disappointed though it was, the duck consoled itself that it really wasn’t so bad to remain on the farm. As more time went by, it gradually forgot its desire to fly. It satisfied itself with the comfortable life of a tame farm duck. Although, from time to time, it couldn’t help feeling disturbed by the sight of the farmer walking off with one of the other ducks in one hand, and a sharpened knife in the other…
My dear friends, it’s not too difficult, is it, for us to predict how this story might end? To see that, if nothing changes, then it’s only a matter of time before the wild duck becomes a dead duck. But what if we were to take pity on it, and want to rescue it? How might we do that? How to convince the duck to lose some weight, and to re-train itself to fly? In order to escape its terrible fate? Perhaps we can do two things. The first is to warn the duck. To insist on drawing its attention to the other disappearing ducks. To help it to realise that whatever is happening to them will also soon happen to it. The second thing we could do is to remind the duck of its original wildness. To draw its attention to other wild ducks whenever they happen to fly by. So as to re-ignite in its heart its own burning desire to fly.
Warnings and reminders. These are also the two things that we find in our Mass readings, on this third Sunday of Lent. These are the two ways that our loving and merciful God uses to save people who are in danger of death. In the second reading, St Paul warns the Corinthian Christians not to be complacent. Not to think that they are safe, just because they have been baptised into Christ, and are fed regularly at the table of the Lord. For the Israelites in Moses’ day were also, in a sense, baptised. They too were fed with spiritual food and drink. And yet, most of them failed to please God, and died before reaching the Promised Land. In spite of the many spiritual benefits granted them, they were doomed, because they continued to harbour in their hearts wicked lusts for forbidden things. Like the wild duck in our story, they allowed themselves to be tamed by selfishness and sin.
Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus uses the victims of various disasters as examples to warn the people that they too will perish, if they do not repent without delay. For, like the fig tree in the Lord’s parable, God was mercifully giving them a graced time to change their lives, to tun to Christ, and to bear fruit in the vineyard of the Lord. Failing which they would be cut down.
These sobering warnings in the second reading and the gospel are matched by the inspiring reminder that we find in the first reading. The reminder that God gives to Moses at Horeb, the mountain of God. As you may recall, at this point in the story, Moses has not yet begun to fulfil the plan God has in mind for him. After murdering an Egyptian, he has become a fugitive in the wilderness. But even if Moses may have forgotten his own people, God has not forgotten him. God has not forgotten them. Through the burning bush, God re-ignites in Moses’ heart, his fiery passion to save God’s long-suffering people. To set them free from their oppressors. I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt, God says. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them… It is only by fulfilling this God-given calling that Moses attains his own salvation.
These sober warnings and inspiring reminders, which we find in our readings today, are addressed also to each and all of us. For, like the Corinthians, are we not also prone to complacency? Do we not also often think that we are safe, just by coming to Mass every Sunday? Without, at the same time, conscientiously examining our hearts, and letting go of our wicked lusts for forbidden things? Also, like Moses, do we not too easily forget our own God-given calling, as followers of Christ, to be witnesses of the Good News to all whom we meet? To pay careful attention to those around us who may be oppressed in one way or another? Physically, or emotionally, or spiritually. And to share with them the freedom that comes from committing our lives to our Crucified and Risen Lord?
To pay attention to sober warnings and inspiring reminders. Is this not what the season of Lent is for? Is this not a privileged and graced time for us to allow ourselves to heed the warnings and reminders that God continues to send us every day? So that we might turn away from our habitual selfish preoccupations, and to begin bearing the fruit that God intends for us to bear?
Sisters and brothers, when we carefully examine our hearts and our lives this Lent, will we perhaps find a doomed duck that God wishes to save? What must we do to leave the farm of death, and to reclaim our God-given wildness today?