Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle C

Third Sunday of Lent


 Luke 13:1-9

“Unless you repent … ”

Two alarming happenings were in the news: one an atrocity committed by Pilate, the other an accident in which a tower block collapsed; both of these events caused much suffering and death. They also raised questions in the minds of the contemporaries of Jesus: What had the victims done to deserve such a fate? What sins had they committed to bring upon themselves such punishment? For it was commonplace among the people of that time to see disasters and accidents and suffering as inflicted by God as punishment for sin.

Jesus insists that there is no connection between the misfortunes that assail us and sin. The victims of these disasters, he declares, were no worse than the rest of us. He firmly rejects the equation between suffering and sinfulness. Such an attitude would present a totally distorted image of God, utterly unlike the Father of life and love presented to us by Jesus. No, God does not suddenly create calamities to punish his wayward children, or to force them back into submission to his will.

Nonetheless, Jesus does also emphatically declare that every one of us is in need of repentance and, unlike those people caught up in sudden disaster, we do have some time still to do something about it. His parable of the fig tree that has failed to produce fruit presents a picture of a patient God; but even if God has all the time in the world to wait, we do not. Jesus urges us to seize the present moment. “Unless you repent … ” Nowadays we tend to understand repentance to mean admitting wrong-doings and seeking forgiveness. But the Greek word that we translate as repentance has deeper meanings. The word means "to have a change of mind." Jesus does not call just for a list of sins and a promise not to sin again. He demands a complete change of mind and heart, a change of attitude, a fundamental change of the very thought processes that govern our behaviour.