The Third Sunday of Lent [C]
Ex 3:1-8,13-15 + 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12 + Lk 13:1-9
February 28, 2016
“Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”
Today’s Second Reading draws our attention back to the Old Testament, to the desert stretching between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the slavery of the Pharaoh and the freedom of the Lord. Here, St. Paul is warning the Corinthians of a great danger in their own Christian spiritual life, using the Exodus as an allegory for that spiritual life.
The Israelites passing through the Red Sea symbolizes Christian Baptism. The Red Sea and Baptism both deal death and life at the same time. At the Red Sea, the Egyptian military was destroyed, while God’s People were granted freedom from the “whole cruel fate of slaves” [Ex 1:14] in which they’d been bound for so long. Their fate now stretched before them in the freedom of the desert.
Similarly, in Baptism God destroys all sin in the soul, while at the same time giving life through both grace and incorporation into the life of the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body. Like the life of God’s People during the Exodus, life in the Body of Christ is lived in freedom.
So where is St. Paul’s warning? It’s a warning about the demands of that desert freedom in which the Christian lives.
The baptized Christian can be tempted to think that Baptism makes one “saved”, or in other words, to believe that the freedom of the Red Sea is the freedom of the Promised Land. Instead, St. Paul is warning those willing to listen to him that a long, hard, dry desert stretches between the waters of the Red Sea and the waters of the Jordan River, the true boundary into the Promised Land. Salvation isn’t accomplished at one’s Baptism. At Baptism the Christian is redeemed from the yoke of sin and death, but the journey towards salvation stretches before him as he takes his first steps as a pilgrim into the desert of the Christian spiritual life.
St. Paul warns that, in spite of the many blessings that God bestowed upon “our ancestors” during the Exodus, He “was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.” Paul details these blessings: being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”, “spiritual food”, and “spiritual drink” flowing “from a spiritual rock” that “was the Christ.”
During Lent we Christians ponder all the blessings that God has bestowed on each of us through the Church. Through examinations of conscience we must ask whether God is pleased with the path we’ve freely travelled through this world. Will our current path in the spiritual life lead to our being struck down in the desert, or instead towards the Promised Land that may be ours only after a lifetime of pilgrimage?