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How Jesus asked his followers to respond to 1st-century headlines

READING PAPER
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The news wasn't very different from the news of our own day, and their reaction wasn't very different from ours. Here's the better way.

Jesus explains how we should treat Twitter, Facebook and TV news this Sunday.

The readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C, address how to read the bad news of the day: By looking past it to the good news of eternity.

When a tragedy occurs, we focus on all the wrong things.

Two 1st-century news stories are referenced in the Gospel. In one, Pilate is responsible for the death of Jews; in the other, an act of terrorism targeting an aqueduct’s tower has left people dead.

These are not very different from the news of our own day – and our reaction isn’t very different. When there is a shooting or other act of terrorism, we are quick to try to assign blame — to the government or private groups or even to the victims.

Jesus doesn’t seem interested in assigning blame. His reaction is to see the incidents as confirmation of the fragility of life.

When we see tragedies in the world, we shouldn’t just virtue-signal; we should repent.

To show solidarity with the victims of tragedy we need to go further than making public signs of support or lashing out at one player or another. We need to show an interior sign of repentance.

“Do you think [the victims] were more guilty than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem?” Jesus asks. “By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.”

The 24/7 news cycle, with nonstop cable news and a stream of news updates on our phones has made a bad problem worse. The problem is the way we desensitize ourselves to the true meaning of the events and separate them more and more from our own humanity.

Jesus would have us react to news events by looking inward. The rest of the readings show how to train ourselves to do just that.

St. Paul didn’t spend his time commenting on the news of the day. He spent his time immersed in salvation history.

St. Paul, in the Second Reading, recounts the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. He sees in it the story of Christians’ exodus from sin through baptism and the Eucharist.

He was able to see this deeper news in the world because he spent his time reading Scripture, listening attentively to what God was saying rather than catching up on what everyone else was saying.

His commentary is on the ancient stories of salvation history. “These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things as they did,” he says. “They have been written down as a warning to us. … Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

When Christians look at the world, we shouldn’t see chaos. We should see the mystery of God.

In the first reading, Moses discovers the way God looks at the victims of government oppression or terrorism.

Moses is watching his flock on the mountainside when he sees a burning bush, and hears a message from God.

“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering,” he says. “Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians.”

It was easy to look at Israel and see only human cruelty and decide that God had forgotten them.

Instead, Moses learns that God is very attentive to them. The suffering that they are encountering isn’t a sign that God doesn’t care. Rather, God allows his people to learn the hard way that the dark powers of the earth will overpower them without God.

The Good News of today’s Gospel is that we are still alive, and still able to repent.

The problem with worrying about the news and arguing about who is at fault is that, for most of us, the exercise leaves us with no real fruit. It doesn’t bring anyone closer to God. It might in fact mask the true meaning of the events of our life by keeping us distracted with the superficial level instead of seeking God’s purpose for mankind.

It makes us like the fig tree in Jesus’s parable, existing but doing nothing with our existence.

Happily, we have been given a reprieve. We still have time to change our ways. We can still draw nutrients from Scripture, the sacraments, and time spent in prayer.

That will help us see the world better than the most active person on Twitter.

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