“Repent, says the Lord; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
God is good to us. So very good. Again and again he opens his arms so that we may seek forgiveness and comfort in his Divine Presence. The theme of second chances and the universal Lenten call to repentance are present throughout the readings today. God reveals himself to Moses in the first reading to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Here we find Moses after he has fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian that was striking one of the Israelites. Moses in the next chapter would object to God’s plan feeling that he lacked eloquence or that the people would not believe him. Yet God puts his trust in his servant Moses, and even though Moses had Egyptian blood on his hands and sought exile because of it, God still elevates him to this position of leadership.
St. Paul picks up this theme of the exodus in the second reading reminding the Corinthians that the people of Israel despite having been led by the “cloud” of God out of Egypt through the Red Sea and into the desert, they turned away from Him. The Israelites actually saw the mighty hand of God at work and saw the wonders that God did, but as saw St. Paul points out, God still was not pleased with many of them and for that they did not live to see the Promised Land. Paul’s is a cautionary tale that we must always be in a state of sanctifying grace. This is where Jesus picks up in the Gospel where he calls us to repent not once but twice. Here again, we see God offering us a second chance as we see in the parable of the fig tree. The owner wants to cut the fruitless tree down but the gardener wants to tend to the tree for one more year so that it produces fruit. God is always at work to give us another chance, another shot at redemption. And today he is extending his salvific hand towards us as we struggle under the weight of our sin. The opening prayer today says: “O God, author of mercy…look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.” His hand is ready to lift us up and grasp us in love and mercy.
This past week, I visited an elderly couple who were celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, the bride is on in years, her eyesight is failing and barely leaves her house anymore. So I visited this couple in order to anoint her and give them both communion because now the groom spends most of his days taking care and tending to his bride. After I anointed her and they received Holy Communion, I asked them to hold hands so that I may bless their marriage as they approached their anniversary. When I saw those two hands, worn down by years so tenderly grasp each other tightly, it was as if that grasp spoke to the love and tenderness of God. It spoke of the fidelity they have for one another and a love that has grown over 51 years. It reminded me of the little things in this life that speak to the love of God. Today the Lord wants us to hold his hand just like that couple held each other’s hands. Hold it tightly. Hold it firmly and always remember that our God is a God of second chances, of third chances, of fourth and fifth chances, of fiftieth and one hundred chances. As one of our priests like to say in confession, it doesn’t matter how many times we fall because of sin, what matters is how many times we get up. Today he is calling us to repent and calling us to get up and grasp his hand ever so tightly yet again.