A context

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year C.  For parishes with active RCIA programs it is also the beginning of the Lenten Scrutinies when the catechumens/elect (those awaiting baptism) are present at Mass. The presider has the option to use the readings from Year A. So, if this Sunday you are wondering why the Johannine gospel of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well is proclaimed, you’ll know why! In this post we will stay with the Year C readings.

Once the Easter Season is over and we return to Ordinary Time, on the 14th Sunday of Lectionary Cycle C (during which Luke is the primary source of the Gospels) we begin with Luke 10. Slowly we cover the Gospel of Luke up to the 20th Sunday which brings us to the end of Chapter 12. The following Sunday we pick up the thread at Luke 13:22, completely skipping over the Gospel for this 3rd Sunday in Lent.

This gospel for the 3rd Sunday in Lent is a pointed gospel about repentance, bearing fruit, and the time given us – and this well placed for the Lenten season. However, it is far removed from its narrative context. So, in addition to its Lenten context, it would be good to review the larger context from the Lucan narrative stream.

All Scripture has a context, this passage included.  Most outlines of Luke show our verses as part of a larger whole that begins in 12:1 and concludes in 13:9. A new day and setting is implied in 13:10 where we are told: “He was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath.” Prior to this Jesus had been preaching to his disciples, Peter, the crowds and people who were present. When one considers Luke 12 it is clear that Jesus calls for courage in times of persecution and danger. “Fear” is no longer a synonym for religious awe, but rather speaks to the times present and to come when there is fear of arrest; persecution; loss of position; place and wealth; and fear of death. Jesus speaks to those fears as he points to spiritual freedom symbolized by the generous disposition of possessions.  Thus these are times for watchfulness and service – and ultimately a call for decision. It is with this background that Jesus provides the warnings for repentance.

Comparison of Gospel writers sayings

In the uniquely Lucan sayings there seems to be a special accent on God’s gracious actions on behalf of the people.

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (12:32).

Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants” (12:35-38).

Our verses (13:1-9) contain that same emphasis, e.g., where the gardener seeks to spare the barren fig tree for one more year.  It should be noted that the recipients of this divine grace have some responsibilities: not to be afraid, to be prepared and ready, to open the door for the master, to repent and to bear fruit.

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