“What Now?”

“What Now?”

Saint Patrick’s Day falls exactly one month before Easter this year. We are in the thick of Lent. I am (actually) following my own advice and I am practicing a “gentle Lent” this year. Typically, by now I would be struggling to maintain my discipline of giving up whatever I gave up. I am finding the invitation to take on a practice of observing and reflecting to be fertile ground.

One of the things I’ve been reflecting on are the daily prompts on our “Join the Journey Through Lent 2022” posters. Yesterday, we were asked to read this coming Sunday’s Gospel lesson: Luke 13:1–9. In this Gospel story, Jesus is told about some people who died a horrible death. Jesus was asked if these people died because they were worse sinners than all the other people. Why did this happen, Jesus? Jesus responds to this question with a rhetorical question about why bad things happen to good people. Jesus does not answer either question, by the way.

In the Bible, God does not answer “why?” questions. Not for Moses. Not for Job. Not even for Jesus. (Remember Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God was silent.) Jesus does not answer “why?” questions for his disciples. I wonder, “why?”

There are no good answers for life’s big “why?” questions. God does not cause our suffering, so God does not have an easy answer for us. Suffering and loss are a part of life—a part of being human. Again, if we turn to the Bible, we find God does answer “what now?” questions. Moses spent years asking God why God had put him in charge of leading a “stiff-necked” people wandering in the wilderness. Moses got no answer. When Moses finally asked a “what now?” question, God told him to gather seventy elders and get some help!

Because there are not good answers for life’s big “why?” questions, we can get stuck with our “why?” questions. I know I have found myself stuck wondering/fuming/obsessing on some “whys?”. If you find yourself stuck with a “why?”, try re-framing your question to a “what now, God?”

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus responds to his followers “why?” questions with a “what now?” parable. When the landowner told the gardener to cut down a fig tree that was not bearing fruit, the gardener urged patience and recommend extra care and tending. God will not strike down the tree that does not bear fruit (or us sinners); God is patient and always has “what now?” plans to encourage new growth and new life.

Blessedly, not all the prompts on the “Join the Journey through Lent” poster call for such deep reflection. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I do, however, feel compelled to share that the symbol for St. Patrick is not the four-leaf clover but the three-leaf shamrock. If you pray Hymn #370, the prayer of St. Patrick—known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate—you will find that St. Patrick had a “thing” for the Trinity:

I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.

(Hymnal 1982, #370)

Lenten peace,