FROM A READING FOR FEB. 28, THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
'The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush....God said to Moses, "I AM WHO AM....Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you"...' -- Exodus 3:2,14

One of many insights I learned from Rev. Carroll Stuhlmueller had to do with Sunday's first reading (Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15).

The famous Scripture scholar once remarked that he didn't believe Yahweh had positioned an angel with binoculars along the Sinai road Moses was traveling, ready to signal another angel to "cue the bush" when Moses got close. Father Stuhlmueller was convinced that the bush was always burning, but no one except Moses had ever looked carefully enough at it to actually see its fire.

To say the least, Moses was different from others around him.

The historical Jesus also expected His followers to be different. That's why, as in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), He constantly calls upon them to "repent."

The Greek word "metanoia" ("repent") means more than just, "I'm sorry I did it; I'll never do it again." In Scripture, it refers to a 180-degree change in one's value system. What I once thought important, I now see as insignificant. What I once judged unimportant, I've now put at the center of my life.

The Galilean carpenter demanded that the first step in imitating Him was to adopt His value system: to see people and things as He saw them.

Repent always
Among all the evangelists, Luke (13:1-9) seems to have regarded repentance as a gradual process. That seems to be why he made a huge part of his Gospel a journey narrative. Just as his Jesus constantly is on the road to Jerusalem, where He dies and rises, so His followers are on their own roads to Jerusalem: that place and time in their lives where they die and rise with Him.

No doubt Luke enjoyed narrating the story of the patient gardener. Like that un-bearing fig tree, a lot of his original readers also needed to be cultivated and fertilized so they'd experience a metanoia in the future. Luke is the one evangelist who constantly zeroes in on God's mercy (and his Gospel is one proclaimed during this "Year of Mercy").

Jesus wasn't overly concerned with just providing people with new information to store in their brains. His goal was to change the way His disciples' brains interpreted the information already there, and information still to come. Just because significant things were happening to His followers and significant people were involved in their lives, there was no guarantee that their value systems were such to interpret them as significant.

Pay attention
Paul treats that problem in our I Corinthians (10:1-6,10-12) passage. Nothing was more significant in the history of Judaism than the Exodus from Egypt; yet, as the Apostle notes, the majority of those who experienced that unique act of salvation never seemed to have appreciated its significance, just as some of his readers don't seem to be appreciating the significant things and people in their lives.

"Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall," Paul writes. Acquiring Jesus' value system is a lifelong process. We never reach a point when our repentance no longer needs to evolve.

Moses only encountered Yahweh because only Moses had the proper frame of mind which enabled him to come face to face with the God of his ancestors. Of course, his frame of mind resulted in receiving some heavy responsibilities. When one's value system changes, one's responsibilities also change. We begin to see needs and opportunities most people around us ignore. We simply look at people and situations with new eyes.

Perhaps that's why some of us walk by a lot of bushes in the course of our lives, and never notice the fire burning in the middle of them.