Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent
“Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy.”Psalm 64:1.
“Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell upon them – do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus, in today’s Gospel Luke 13:1-9.In the Gospel today, there are references to two disasters. The first is the massacre of Jews making a pilgrimage from Galilee to the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate sent in troops to slaughter them. Perhaps he feared a riot but, for Jews to be killed as they offered animal sacrifices according to their law, this polluted the place of worship not only because of their deaths but by mingling the blood of humans and animals in a way that would cause even greater offence. The second is the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, which fell on eighteen people and killed them. These disasters then have resonances today as the war in Ukraine continues with Russia seeking to invade as did the Romans and with many civilian deaths and the collapse of much of the infrastructure resulting.
Those present ask Jesus whether the victims had perhaps brought the tragedy upon themselves by offending God so greatly that he wanted to punish them in this way. That would chime with the thinking of the day but Jesus responds with a firm denial of their suggestion – but he also warns them that, unless they repented, they too would perish. In the New Testament, to perish was not just death but judgement too in a way that denied the possibility of eternal life as in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
In the face of so much territorial conflict and death then and now, one recent image in particular bore testimony to the true cost of suffering. The sixth Station of the Cross has an account, not in the Gospels, of the sweat, blood and spittle on Jesus’ face being wiped off with her veil by a nun called Veronica as he carried his cross along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary. The woman Veronica is legendary, although there is a saint of this name, and her name has arisen because of the relic created when the mark of Jesus’ face was imprinted as it was wiped on a piece of cloth. The true image – the Vera Iconica – of Jesus’ face during his suffering eventually led through the retelling of the story to the creation of the woman now called Veronica and a cloth relic long before the Shroud of Turin, in which the body of Jesus was said to have been wrapped. So, it was significant that Marianna Podgurskaya, who had to flee from a Ukrainian maternity hospital being shelled by Russian troops, should name her baby Veronika, a true image of the ongoing warfare and suffering today.
Whatever the origins of the relic, compassion was shown to Jesus by a bystander looking on as his suffering continued. As tragedy unfolds in the ongoing war, there are also many opportunities to be not just spectators but helpers working to relieve the suffering of so many displaced and traumatised people. In the face of such adversity, we may be able to do little to relieve the immediate suffering caused by the war but there will be more local opportunities to become a Vera Iconica too, not just a legend like Veronica, but true images of love and compassion where it is needed.
With my prayers; Pob Bendith