In Exodus 3, Moses “turns aside” to see the burning bush, and comes into the presence of the Holy God. In this encounter God reveals his awareness of Israel’s suffering, and sends Moses to set them free. Faced with his inadequacy for this intimidating task, Moses is assured that God will be with him, and is given the sacred name of God.
Jesus challenges a common misconception in these verses of Luke’s Gospel. People who die from accidents or violence were considered to be struck down by God for exceptional sins. Jesus warns rather that all people must come to terms with sin, to “repent or perish.” There is patience in God for us, as in a gardener who tends to a fruitless tree in hopes it will bear fruit. But at some point, a fruitless tree in the orchard is cut down!
Paul’s words to the Corinthians clearly reinforces the belief that God strikes down sinners, as he recounts the deaths of thousands who had rebelled against God in various ways and physically perished. For Paul, this is an example from which we learn that it is not enough to be baptized people who are participants in the sacrament of the Lord’s table. Our daily living must reflect faith and trust in God. And it is our trust in God’s help that lets us overcome temptations that would destroy us.
Comment: We find it easy to dismiss Paul’s teaching and warnings as extreme, but what he says is in line with the warning of Jesus that all must repent or perish. I find I cannot explain this away, but we need not take this literally. We know many violent, immoral and unrepentant people who live long lives. It seems Paul and Jesus talk rather of spiritual death, of a uselessness to God, a dismissal of God’s life and calling. Is this not deadly? Are we not lost, ultimately, without God’s grace and spirit? Can we become cut off from God forever? I really can only look to myself in this, and not presume to judge the sins of others. I am invited to turn my hearts in trust to God every morning, and come home to Lord every day.