Lent 5C: Meeting Jesus Now

mary-anoints-jesusOLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 43: 16-21

To read the Old Testament passage

This passage centers on the promise that God is going to do a new thing and calls Israel (and us) to be on the lookout for the fulfillment of that promise. In our culture, we are continually bombarded with predictions of the “end of the world”, warning of a time to come that is filled with gloom and despair. But, really, how can you read this text and fall into such a look at the future? The crux is that God is indeed going to do a new thing. It will be a time when the former things will not be considered, a time when all of Creation will come together and finally be the Creation that God had formed from the beginning. It is a message of hope, rather than gloom and despair.

But implicit in this passage is the call to look for these things, to make oneself aware of what is to come. In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann reminds us (when talking of this message to Israel) that “they will have no joy, no public justice, no corporate repentance, and no family humaneness until the community received a newness it cannot generate for itself.” It is a call, then, to look to God, to look to what God promises and what God is doing and not try to “fix” it ourselves.

Here, the passage begins with a reminder of what God has done and then, as if immediately, the hearer is told to forget about those things, to not dwell on what did or did not happen, to let it go. Perhaps what is about to come will be so much better than what we presently see that it will indeed make us forget the “former things”.

Remember the background of the context of this passage. This chapter is the fourth chapter in what we have come to call “Second Isaiah”. The time is probably the end of the exile, the end of a time of great communal loss and despair and one that is definitely shaping their identity and how they see God. At this point, they had lost everything—homes, land, their way of making a living, even their very sense of who they were before God and as a people. They couldn’t help but ask questions that still reverberate for us today: Where was God? Why had God let this happen? What kind of future did we really have waiting? But into this despair, God comes and promises hope. It is a reminder to them and to us that God is always there, whether or not we are in a position to be aware of God’s presence. In Feasting on the Word, Kristin Johnson Largen says that “From this verse, we know that Isaiah’s message to God’s people will be a word of encouragement, a word of consolation, and, most importantly, a word of hope, and from the thirty-nine chapters that preceded [Second Isaiah], we know that it comes to a people in dire need of a good word from the Lord. No wonder the great Hebrew scholar Abraham Heschel calls the proclamation of Second Isaiah ageless, saying “No words have ever gone further in offering comfort when the sick world cries.”” (Kristen Johnston Largen, Feasting on the Word, Year C., Volume 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., “Fifth Sunday in Lent” (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 122-124.)

God is indeed a God of new life. It is our own call to look beyond the past and dare to hope, dare to believe in the restoration of life and of Creation that God has promised. We Christians sort of have a “hind sight” view of the recreation that God can do. We Lenten journeyers who walk toward the cross this season know how the story turns out. It is our own call to let the past go and to open the tombs of our lives…if nothing else, just to see what God can do, just to see what wonderful surprises God has in store for us. It is a call to open our eyes so that we don’t miss the signs of resurrection that are everywhere. It is a call to “come and see this thing that has happened”.


  • What is your response to this passage?
  • What things in our lives make it difficult to be hopeful?
  • In this Season of Lent, when we walk to journey to the Cross, what message of personal hope does that mean for us?
  • What signs of recreation, of “resurrection”, if you will, do you see in Creation when you allow yourselves?
  • How does this speak to you in the midst of this Lenten journey?



NEW TESTAMENT: Philippians 3:4b-14

To read the Epistle passage

This passage begins with Paul boasting about his own life and his own self. In fact, he sort of presents his resume’, as if he is quashing any readers or onlookers who might consider themselves above him. And then, just as quickly, he deflates himself. He essentially now claims that whatever good (or bad) that he’s done in the past is nothing in terms of his knowing Christ. We need to understand that Paul is not tossing away his past. He still claims it—good and bad. It is part of who he is. But he uses it to put it all in perspective. For him, the things that he valued in the past are no longer as important to him. (And the things that he regretted in his past are no longer in his way either.)

Paul now realizes that whoever and whatever he claims to be is because of God through Christ. The promise of new life is what now urges him forward in his journey. He, admittedly, is not there but he sees his journey as one of faith and one of life with Christ. This also sort of disputes those who claim that the “prize”, the “goal”, the “reward”—whatever they choose to call it—is because of who they are or what they’ve done. According to Paul, it is nothing WE do; rather, it is something that God does for us. Our journey, then, is a journey of faithfulness in the hope that God has promised.

This is also a treatise on faith itself. Paul would claim that blindly following rules of the religion is not what brings one closer to God. That would be a belief that loses perspective, that lets the rules and the understandings get in the way of one’s faith. Paul is not claiming that he is better than others because he is better-versed in the faith; if anything, he is disputing that very claim.

In this Lenten season, we are called to strip ourselves of those things that get in the way of our faith, that impede us on our journey toward that oneness with God. Paul is reminding us that included in that is a call to let go of our past, let go of the “I” that we’ve built ourselves up to be, and let go of the understandings that frame how we view God. It is a call to open ourselves to God’s movement in our lives and God’s guidance on this journey that we call faith. We’re all in this together. We’re all the same, journeying toward God, guided by God, thirsting for God. Tony Campolo tells this story in one of his online sermons:

Where do you meet Jesus? Well, first of all I contend you meet Jesus in suffering people. If you look deeply into the eyes of suffering people, you will have this eerie awareness that the same Jesus that died on the cross is staring back at you. Mother Teresa learned that, and I’m learning that.

I was walking down the street in Philadelphia and a bum came towards me. I mean a dirty, filthy guy. He was covered with soot from head to toe. You couldn’t believe how messed up he was. He had this huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in the beard. As he approached me, he held out a cup of McDonald’s coffee and said, “Hey mister, want some of my coffee?” I looked at his dirty, filthy personhood and said, “Thanks, but that’s okay,” and I walked by him. The minute I passed him, I knew I was doing the wrong thing, so I turned around and said, “Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee.” I took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to him. I said, “You’re being generous. How come you’re being so generous today?” And this bum looked at me and he said, “Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people.” I didn’t know how to handle that, so I said, “Can I give you anything?” I thought that he would hit me for five dollars. He said, “No.” Then he said, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve changed my mind, there is something you can give me. You can give me a hug.” As I looked at him, I was hoping for the five dollars! He put his arms around me and I put my arms around him. And as I in my establishment dress and he in his filthy garb hugged each other on the street, I had the strange awareness that I wasn’t hugging a bum, I was hugging Jesus. I found Jesus in that suffering man.

Whenever you meet a suffering person, you will find that Jesus is there waiting to be loved in that individual. That’s why Jesus said, “In as much as ye do it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it unto me.” You cannot reach out to a person in need, you cannot embrace somebody who’s hurting, you cannot minister to somebody who is in desperate straits without having that eerie and wonderful awareness that Jesus is coming back at you right through that person. If there is anything that Mother Teresa would have taught us, that’s what she would have taught us. (Tony Campolo, “Knowing God”, 30 Good Minutes, October 26, 1997, available at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/campolo_4104.htm, accessed 17 March, 2010.)



  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What are the things that we today hold out as “better”, those things that make up who we are and perhaps get in the way of our relationship with God?
  • The first century “boundary marker” for faith was circumcision? What is our twenty-first century “boundary marker for our faith?
  • Are there things on your “resume’” that make faith a challenge for you?
  • What happens to us and our relationships when we let things like that come into play?
  • How does this speak to you in the midst of this Lenten journey?



GOSPEL: John 12: 1-8

To read the Gospel passage

The Gospel passage occurs in all four canonical Gospels. But it is never told the same way twice, illustrating once again that the Bible was not written as an historical narrative but rather a way to connect us to God and to each other. The Gospel writers place the event at different times and the woman herself is not always named. But the fact that costly perfume is extravagantly poured on Jesus is always the same.

This passage from the writer that we know as John (which is also read on Monday of Holy Week every year) follows the raising of Lazarus in Chapter 11. Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s brother, had died and Jesus raised him. It marks a turning point of the Gospel. This would be the last straw. It is the event that marks Jesus for death. It’s really unclear whether or not Lazarus and his family knew that. It’s probable that neither they nor the disciples did. But Martha and Mary are so grateful for what Jesus has done and so glad to have Lazarus back, that they invite him to dinner. They pull out all the stops—best dishes, best linens, and cook up a feast. In the midst of the celebration, Mary rises and gathers a jar of expensive oil. Pure nard WOULD have been worth an awful lot of money in that time. It was hard to come by and was reserved to anoint the deceased. You could speculate that the oil has been purchased for the preparation of Lazarus’ body. She breaks the seal and pours it out extravagantly over Jesus’ feet. The fragrance filled the house. She then, of all things, unbinds her hair (improper in mixed company) and wipes her hair over Jesus’ feet.

Well, it was too much for the disciples. They claim that the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor. In other words, it is as if they were claiming that Mary was wasting the oil by pouring it on Jesus’ feet! The truth was that Mary got it. With deep gratefulness and deep love, she anointed Jesus for his death. Perhaps she knew what was to come. Perhaps she understood it as a distinct possibility. And in the anointing, she, too, enters the Passion narrative. She understood what it meant for Jesus to be sitting there. She did not worry about rules, or what was right, or what was proper. She gave herself over to being truly present in this moment with Jesus.

I’ve often thought that some of the language used or implied here is telling. Mary took…and poured…and wiped…(Sound familiar? Later, Jesus would take the bread, pour the wine, and wipe the feet of the disciples.) Her act was not, of course, a sacrament; but it WAS sacramental. She understood and entered the love that was Christ. She made that love visible (an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”, so to speak).   She became part of Jesus’ journey to the cross. And in that moment, the house becomes a cathedral and the meal becomes a Eucharist in memory of the living Christ.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? Jesus has begun the walk to the cross. Are we standing on the sidelines watching the events unfold as if it is some sort of prepared video stream? Are we holding back those things we have because the cost is just too great? Or are we waiting to see what the person next to us will do? Each of us is called to take, to pour, and to wipe. Each of us is called to become a living sacrament of Christ’s love. Each of us is called to walk with Christ to the cross. Each of us is called to embody that close a relationship with the living Christ. Each of us is called to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, to laugh, and to love with the depth and passion of Christ. Because, you see, that is the only way to experience that lingering fragrance of Christ that is still in the air.


  • What meaning does this hold for you?
  • What does it mean for you to live a sacramental life or be a living sacrament of Christ’s love?
  • What does being “truly present” mean to you?
  • What does this mean for you on your Lenten journey?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

“Theologically, I don’t think you can see the future. Traditional Judaism sees that as arrogance—it’s like picking God’s pocket.” (Dan Wakefield, Creating From the Spirit)


If you own something you cannot give away, then you don’t own it, it owns you. (Albert Schweitzer)


All action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands. That is the mystery of work, the mystery of love, the mystery of friendship, the mystery of community…And that is the mystery of Jesus’ love. God reveals [Godself] in Jesus as the one who waits for our response. (Henri J.M. Nouwen, ”From Action to Passion”)




There is a long list of threats around us: terror, cancer, falling markets, killing, others unlike us in all their variety, loneliness, shame, death—the list goes on and we know it well. And in the midst of threats of every kind, you appear among us in your full power, in your deep fidelity, in your amazing compassion. You speak among us the one word that could matter: “Do not fear.”


And we, in our several fearfulnesses, are jarred by your utterance. On a good day, we know that your sovereign word is true. So give us good days by your rule, free enough to rejoice, open enough to change, trusting enough to move out of new obedience, grace enough to be forgiven and then to forgive.


We live by your word. Speak it to us through the night, that we may have many good days through your gift. Amen. (Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 83.)

Lent 3C: Parched and Searching

FootprintsOLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 55: 1-9

Read the Old Testament Passage

This chapter is the last in what many people call “Second Isaiah”. It was probably written around the end of the exile, or about 540 b.c.e. In the ancient world, when a new king assumed the throne and ushered in a new era, the king would often issue a misarum edict declaring a release from all debts and then the king would call for a great banquet to which all the kingdom was invited. So the opening lines call us to a new kingdom, a new era, and that great banquet.

Here, Yahweh provides for those who thirst. This is probably meant to refer both to physical thirst and spiritual thirst. Now keep in mind that these exiles had experienced loss, grief, and estrangement. This call to a new day and to a rule that would quench their thirst was huge. We are reminded that this is the “stuff” that makes up life. This is followed by a call to repentance. God has announced the plan to the people and they are now invited to respond. We are also reminded, though, that God’s thoughts and God’s ways are not within the human boundaries and limits that we have created. In fact, the last part of this passage implies a “widening” of the Davidic covenant. It is a calling to go beyond your kind, to call on “nations that you do not know”.

This is a good reading for Lent. We are called to open our minds and respond to the invitation that God has issued us, beyond our own manufactured rules and our own created boundaries. The surprising work of God is open to us all—wicked and unrighteous included—if we will return to the God who abundantly and generously pardons.

This whole image of thirsting is an interesting one. Timothy Shapiro claims that “hope is preceded by longing”. You see, God is not requiring us to be right or moral or steadfast. I don’t think that God is even requiring us to lay prostrate at the feet of God in good, old-fashioned repentance. God’s only requirement is that we thirst for God, that we desire to be with God so much that we can do nothing else but change our course and follow God. It is our thirst that draws us closer to God and closer to each other. We just have to desire something different enough to be part of making it happen. Alexander Stuart Baillie says it like this:


Our deep spiritual needs, which are thirsts, can be met by Christ. It is God’s desire that every person should know the real joys of life. Augustine, the great churchman, expressed this idea as follows: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we cannot find rest until we find it in Thee.” In other words, we cannot have our thirst satisfied until God does it for us.


This age needs to become more realistic. It needs to listen again to the words of Jesus, who said, ‘I thirst.” He who is the Son of Man, the Son of God, is our example. He is the great pioneer in every realm of life. Surely if he thirsted, how much more do we? Humanity needs to get away from the world of “things as they are” into the world of “things as they ought to be.” This means that men and women must learn to live for others. It is only when we can live a life of self-forgetfulness that we get our truest joy out of life. One needs to keep on thirsting because life grows and enlarges. It has no end; it goes on and on; it becomes more beautiful. When one has done his best there is, he finds, still more to learn and so much more to do. [One] cannot be satisfied until [one]attains unto the stature of Jesus, unto a perfect [human], and ever thirsts for God. (Alexander Stuart Baillie, “Thirsting”, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 242-243.)


So, what happens with those of us for whom thirst can be so easily quenched?  How do we learn to hope at the deepest part of our being if we never truly long for anything?  How do we discover what true need is when we often live our lives over-filled and over-served? How do we hunger for something better in a life where we are so satisfied?  Perhaps that is why people like us need this season of Lent, plunging us into the depths of human need and profound grief.  Maybe the point of it all is to teach us how to thirst and, therefore, to show us that for which we long.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does that “widening” of God’s invitation mean for you?
  3. How does this speak to your own Lenten journey?
  4. What does this whole idea of our needing to “thirst” for God mean for you?
  5. How difficult is that for us?



NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Read the Epistle passage

In this passage, Paul reminds his readers that they are just like their ancestors—and no better. According to him, those ancestors journeyed, lived, and followed God. And yet, they, too, sinned and fell short. Paul is essentially telling the Corinthian church that their behavior is not a guarantee of God’s blessing. (This sort of flies in the face of that “once saved, always saved” idea, I suppose.) Paul’s idea of “idolatry” may be a little different than the definition to which we have become accustomed. Here, he is warning of an idolatry that has little to do with pagan worship but, rather, against making an “idol” of one’s spiritual practices, beliefs, or religion.

He is reminding his readers that they should have learned from those that came before them. They, too, did everything “right” and yet their relationship with God still suffered. We too, no matter how hard we try, will at times fall short of what God desires for us. This is the somewhat radical nature of our relationship with God. It is ongoing and always growing. We have no room to become smug or judgmental.

It is as if Paul is trying to rattle the so-called “self-confidence” of the Corinthian readers, as well as our own. He sees salvation not as a place in heaven or an escape from hell, but as an ongoing relationship with God. This gift of faith that we have will never allow us to become complacent. We can never “rest on the laurels of our past good”, so to speak. Instead, we have entered an ongoing relationship with God and with others—including joy and grief, blessing and pain, fulfillment and needs, life and death. Our religion is really nothing more than an instrument, an always-changing framework to help us understand this relationship. The relationship and the way we encounter God’s love and grace is what it’s all about.

In this season of Lent, this becomes even more pronounced than usual. What does that REALLY mean to live a life of faith? What does that REALLY mean to walk where Jesus walked? Well, it means to walk the road that goes to the cross. And there, your belief system might fall apart but your relationship with God will be your saving grace.


“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus asks. Then, as they gathered around the table in the Upper Room, with the cross only a few hours away, there was the “cup” before him, the blood of his death. The disciples looked for glory; Jesus led them toward death. And so Thomas à Kempis says:

Jesus now hath many lovers of His celestial kingdom: but few bearers of His Cross. He hath many who are desirous of consolations: but few of tribulation. He findeth many companions of His table: but few of His abstinence. All desire to rejoice with Him: Few wish to endure anything for Him. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread: but few to the drinking of the cup of His Passion. Many reverence His miracles: few follow the shame of His Cross.

[The Imitation of Christ]


We are like that. We have signed on for the glory of it all, not the humiliation. We want healing, comfort, reward, success. Like me, the folk at First Church, Corinth, had signed on with Jesus for the glory of it all. They expected to eat the heavenly food and live forever, to achieve power; glory, exotic gifts of the Spirit. But Paul takes them back to the Upper Room, back to the dark night of the cross. He reminds them that it was “on the night when he was betrayed” that the Lord took bread. On the night he was forsaken by God, defeated by Caesar and humiliated by his friends, he took the cup in hand. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Cor. 11:23, 26)…

We, like the Corinthians before us, seek to fill ourselves, cure our aches and pains, live forever. Too often, American evangelical Christianity presents the good news of Christ as the solution to all human problems, the fulfillment of all wants, and a good way to make basically good people even better. The cross suggests that this good news is the beginning of problems we would gladly have avoided, the turning away from the quest for self-fulfillment, the ultimate mocking of our claims for goodness. The principalities and powers tremble only before the cross. Nothing less than death will do — painful, full-scale conversion, letting go, turning from ourselves and toward God.

This meal is not some magical mystery medicine we take to exempt ourselves from the hard facts of life in this world. It is a way of confronting those hard facts. No prayers of a TV evangelist, no prayer cloth from Arizona, no holy oil or water, no holy food, no technique for self-betterment, no sincere social program exempts us from this death.

But at the table, with cup in hand, even our most painful times are redeemed because this Savior saves through suffering. Without the cross, our faith wouldn’t be a comfort to anybody. What would you say to the terminal cancer victim? The mother of a starving child in an Ethiopian desert? The 80-year-old resident of a shoddy nursing home? “Smile, God Loves You!”

No, you can say that our God has been there before. Wherever a cross is raised in the world, our God is there with the crucified. Our God does not flinch in the face of evil. In a hurting world where injustice still sends the good ones to the cross, we do have something to preach. We, like Paul before us, boldly lift the cup and daringly preach Christ and him crucified. If we would follow this Lord, we must follow him down this narrow way of Passion  ( William Willimon,“The Cup of Death”, (Excerpts), (The Christian Century, March 31, 1982), available at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1297, accessed 3 March, 2010.)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How prevalent do you think it is for people today to make an “idol” of their spirituality or religion?
  3. What is the difference for you between belief and faith in God and a relationship with God?



GOSPEL: Luke 13: 1-9

Read the Gospel passage

Similar to the Epistle passage that we read this week, here Jesus reminds the ones who were there to hear this of two historical events that, although the details are lost to us, were probably very much on the minds of those first century hearers. First, the reference to Pilate’s mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices appears to refer to a massacre of a group of Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem. The “tower of Siloam” reference relates to the collapse of a tower in the Herodian wall around Jerusalem which apparently collapsed without warning and crushed eighteen Jerusalemites. You could identify these two events with modern-day events that have great meaning for us but may not carry the same weight of significance 2,000 years from now—perhaps 9/11 or the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007.

But Jesus is dispelling the idea that these victims had done something wrong, that they deserved what they got. The truth was, their lives ended suddenly and unexpectedly. They are reminders that each of our existences is somewhat precarious within this world. Jesus is claiming that the need for repentance is for us all. No one is “exempt” from it. Using the fig tree illustration, he reminds us that even though we have not been cut-down, we should not assume that we are bearing choice fruit. Unless you repent…

Well, this is anything but a comfortable, feel-good parable! I think the problem is that we look at repentance as something negative. We envision repentance as a change toward being “right” or “moral” or something else that will win us favor with God or rack us up enough points to get us into heaven. But repentance is not about losing who you are; it means discovering the wonder of who you are meant to be.

The Greek word that is usually translated as “repentance” is metanoia. In Classical Greek, it meant to change one’s mind, one’s heart, one’s soul, one’s life. Penance was not a part of it until later. It simply meant to follow a different road. But unless you repent…unless you change course…unless you let go of the life that you’ve created, and listen to the road that beckons before you, you will remain comfortable and secure and right where you are. And you will die! But, oh, what you will miss! Frederick Buechner says, “To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, ‘I’m sorry,” than to the future and saying, “Wow!” ( Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1973), 79.) Unless you repent…

Could this be the year? We can hear that as a threat. There’s not much time left. Indeed, some evangelists press us with the question, “Where will you be if you die tonight?” But Jesus’ parable moves in the direction of promise more than threat: “I’m going to do everything I can to help this tree live and bear fruit. I’m going to dig around it and put down manure. I’m going to find every way possible to get to hearts that are hard as packed down soil.” While we’re speculating about why certain people died at Pilate’s hands or why the others were killed by the falling tower, Jesus, the gardener, is working on our hearts. Yes, those stories were real. They were as real as every tragedy we can name: flood or earthquake or military tyrant, cancer or heart attack or an innocent child caught in the crossfire of drug warfare. Such realities remind us that our time is finite. Stories like these dig at our hearts. They get to us with the truth that we can’t keep putting everything off until tomorrow.

But being scared to death can rob us of all hope. Life can then seem utterly arbitrary–if I die, I die. There’s nothing I can do about it, so why try? Into the midst of such despair, the gardener comes. Don’t cut the tree down. Let it alone for one more year. Jesus, the gardener, wants us to live. His passion marked for us by great urgency–don’t wait! Look at your life and dare to ask the hard questions: Am I stingy in my love for others? Am I withholding forgiveness for old wrongs? Do I refuse to believe that I can be forgiven, carrying from year to year a growing burden of guilt? Am I so busy making a living that I’ve forgotten to make a life? Jesus digs at us with questions like these. Jesus digs at our hearts in the outstretched hand of every homeless beggar on the streets, of every child not fed. “What have you done?” Jesus asks, and “What have you left undone?” Such questions, like the parable of the fig tree, move us toward repentance, a word that means to turn around, to believe things can be different, to trust that the one who calls us to turn around will be there even when we fail.

We might not do things this way. We’d probably be far more impatient than God. “You’ve had your chance,” I’m tempted to say. “The year has passed and you still haven’t shaped up!” But I am not God, nor can I put my words in God’s mouth. Still, the gardener comes. “One more year,” he says, “I’ll do everything I can to bring this tree back to life.” “Who knows?” asks the gardener. “Could this be the year for figs?” (Barbara K. Lundblad, “Could This Be the Year for Figs?”, March 18, 2001, available at http://day1.org/638-could_this_be_the_year_for_figs, accessed 3 March, 2010. )


  1. What meaning does this hold for you?
  2. What is challenging or uncomfortable about this passage?
  3. Why is this whole idea of repentance so difficult for us?
  4. What does this mean for you on this Lenten journey?
  5. What does it mean for us to take more responsibility for what happens in the world, for what happens in our Jerusalems?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

The purpose of Lent is to arouse. To arouse the sense of sin. To arouse a sense of guilt for sin. To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible. To arouse the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins. To arouse or to motivate the works of love and the work of justice that one does out of gratitude for the forgivesness of one’s sins. (Edna Hong, “A Look Inside”, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter)


Any religion…is forever in danger of petrification into mere ritual and habit, though ritual and habit be essential to religion. (T. S. Eliot)


Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality…They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. I saw something once…that said, “A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a great meaning.” (Ann Lamott)




We pray, as often as we meet, that we might “perfectly love you.” Indeed, we have been commanded from the beginning, to love you with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and all our strength. We have pledged to love, pledged in our prayers and in our baptism, in our confirmation and with our best resolve.


But we confess…we love you imperfectly; we love you with a divided heart, with a thousand other loves that are more compelling, with reservation and qualification, and passion withheld and devotion impaired…


Free us from idolatries, and our habits of recalcitrance, tender our hearts, gentle our lips, open our hands that we may turn toward you fully toward your world unguardedly. Let us bask in your freedom to be fully yours, and so trusting fully our own. We pray through the Lord Jesus who loved you singularly, perfectly, fully—to the end. Amen.

(“Perfectly Love”, Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 11-12.)