The Burning Bush And The Patient Gardener

by Jessica Coblentz

I was not the sort of lapsed Catholic who causally realizes one day that it’s been two years since she last went to mass. When I entered my freshman year of college I was a confessing non-Catholic—that is, a non-Catholic with a purpose. I had a long list of thoroughly developed explanations for why I no longer resided within the faith tradition of my upbringing; I cited the sex abuse scandal and its mismanagement among the high-powered Church hierarchy, the exclusion and devaluation of women and queer folk and the Laity, in general, all while noting the incessant violence and injustice of Catholicism’s history. And I felt fairly confident that God would find these to be satisfactory justifications for leaving the One True Church.

Yet for all of my ardent reasons for leaving Catholicism behind, my native faith seemed to find continuous means for confronting me. After pushing aside another frustrating news article about the Church, I found myself moved by the compelling words of a medieval Catholic saint while doing my theology homework. Although I testified to the preposterousness of the Church’s exclusionary practice of the Eucharist, I often found myself among the crowds of students drawn into the campus sanctuary to partake in the sacrament on Sunday evenings. For every rebuke I had against the Church, Catholicism always seemed to reassert its relevance in my life.

In this Sunday’s readings, Moses finds himself in a similar position. The first reading contains the beginning of an extensive dialogue between Moses and God wherein the shepherd refutes God’s instruction to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Like me, Moses was full of justifications for why he could not be—in his case—the leader that God needed him to be. Moses pushed back against God’s instruction, objecting, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God was adamant amid Moses’ reluctance, just as God would continue to be throughout the remainder of their long dialogue. God replied, “I am who am.” God persisted, saying, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: 
I AM sent me to you.”

In spite of his doubts, God patiently provided Moses with alternative means for making sense of who God was asking him to be. Here, God is the compassionate provider of what we need for making sense of who we are becoming.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus provides similar words to his inquirers. When a group asks if past wrongdoings done to the Galileans has rendered them sinners, Jesus offers a parable depicting a patient, attentive gardener who is present to the needs of others. Someone despairingly asked the gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” The gardener responded, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.” Reading the gardener as a metaphor for God, I witness once again an image of a patient God who responds insistently amid our hopeless doubt.

When I reflect upon my early college years, this is the God I witness. In spite of my persistent objections to Catholicism, God continuously responded, offering new ways for thinking about the Church—new ways for thinking about myself as the Catholic who I was becoming. God did not meet me in a burning bush or parables of gardening. Rather, God met me in the way I needed to be encountered. That is a patient, compassionate God.

Jessica Coblentz is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School where she is pursuing a Master of Theological Studies degree. Follow her writing on the Web at www.jessicacoblentz.com.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/studyjunkie/3286974627/

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One Response

  1. […] The Burning Bush and the Patient Gardener Jump to Comments Check out my latest post on From the Pews in the Back.  It’s a reflection on this Sunday’s liturgical readings entitled, “The Burning Bush and The Patient Gardener.” […]

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