All three of today's readings speak of God’s mercy and compassion in disciplining His children by occasional punishment and giving them a second chance in spite of their repeated sins. Although God’s love for us is constant and consistent, He will not save us without our co-operation. That is why He invites us during Lent to repent of our sins and to renew our lives by producing fruits of love, compassion, forgiveness, and faithful service.
There is a funny story about the produce clerk in the grocery store who was confronted by a woman who wanted to buy half a grapefruit. "But we don't sell half a grapefruit, ma'am," he insisted. She persisted, until finally the clerk went over to his manager - - unaware that the customer had followed him. "Sir, there's a crazy lady over there who wants to buy half a grapefruit." Then, turning around and seeing the customer right behind him, he added, "and this nice lady wants to buy the other half!" As the woman walked away in triumph, the manager said to the produce clerk, “That was a good recovery! You're very sharp. Where are you from anyway?" "I'm from St. Louis," came the reply, the home of ugly women and great football teams.” Is that so?" said the manager. "Well, my wife happens to be from St. Louis." Without a moment’s hesitation, the clerk asked, “What position did she play?"
Thank God for moments of recovery and opportunity to begin again! That's the dominant theme of the Gospel - - that's the nature of God - - giving us the opportunity to begin again.
Jesus mentioned two incidents: the Galileans who were murdered on orders of Pilate as they were offering sacrifices, and the death of eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. The public judgment on them was immediate and conclusive: they deserved to die that way for they were sinners! To have this kind of reaction in the face of such horrendous tragedies and so much human sufferings is not only insensitive but also outright cruel.
In a party, a handsome guy approached a girl and asked, “Are you going to dance?” The girl felt so happy that someone finally asked her. “Yes, of course!" she replied as she quickly stood up. The guy said, "That's good because I need your chair." It would not be surprising if the girl had smashed his face with the chair.
Our arrogance and egoism have made us calloused and insensitive to the plight of our unfortunate brothers and sisters.
This applies not only in cases of calamities and disasters but also in the case of personal sins and scandals that have been relentlessly sensationalized and blown up by the media. Many times, instead of being moved to pity, we quickly jump to conclusions, look down on them with contempt, utter unkind remarks and judge them harshly. But who are we to be the first to cast a stone at somebody?
St. Paul has this warning: “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” (1Cor10:12). Too often we forget the Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7).
The words of Jesus in the Gospel are very strong: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did!” In other words, whatever misfortune happened to other people – whether they are natural disasters or personal sins and scandals - could also happen to us at any time.
St. Augustine warns us on this: “There is no sin or crime committed by another which I myself am not capable of committing through my weakness; and if I have not committed it, it is because God, in His mercy, has not allowed me to and has preserved me in good.”
That is why Jesus warns us not to be self-righteous and not to judge others rashly, but to look at these unfortunate events as eye-openers to our own weaknesses and vulnerability, and as strong reminders of the urgent need to reform our lives. Instead of judging, we thank God that in His mercy, He has spared us from such unfortunate events. For all we know, it could be us, had it not been for the mercy of God! And instead of condemning others and thinking ill of them, let us be kind, understanding and helpful to them.
St. James said: “Remember this: the person who brings a sinner back from his way will save his soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins” (Jas 5:20). Our merciful Father always gives us a second chance. The prodigal son, returning to the father, was welcomed as a son, not treated as a slave. The repentant Peter was made the head of the Church. The persecutor Paul was made the apostle to the Gentiles.
During Lent, we, too, are given another chance to repent and return to our Heavenly Father’s love. We are also expected to give others a second chance when they ask our forgiveness. God would like to use each one of us as the “gardener” in the parable to help Him cultivate our families and communities and enrich them with grace. Let us thank God for using others to help us bear fruit.
Grace is everywhere. Let us always cooperate with grace, especially during Lent.
The news about calamities, disasters, wars and various forms of human sufferings and deaths are now so frequent that they seem to gradually lose their ability to move and shock us. But these are all happening in close succession to precisely warn us of the extreme danger that we are facing, and to avail of God’s mercy and forgiveness ASAP! We do not have the luxury of time. This is what the parable of the fig tree is all about. We have to bear fruit now or we will be cut down.
The barren tree of the parable is a symbol of each of us, and if year after year, we have no fruit, we will be cut down. Maybe we need to see if we don’t need some hoeing and manuring in our spiritual life.
This parable affirms God’s loving patience with the likes of you and me. No matter what we have done or failed to do, a gracious God reaches out to us…to forgive us and accept us. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the fig tree symbolizes Israel, the People of God as well as the Vine and Vineyard images. Those images speak of fruitfulness, of the miracle of growth, of patient care, tillage, watering and protecting. God offered these in the Covenant he established with God’s People.
Now is the time to turn from sin, a time to produce fruit with lives of holiness and goodness
We are now in the third Sunday of Lent. Time flies so swiftly. Let us not allow time to slip away without making a decisive move to seek God's pardon in the sacrament of Confession. This is what Pope Francis earnestly appealed in his Lenten Message in this Jubilee Year of Mercy: “Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favorable a time for conversion!”
Let this season be holy and full of grace – the grace of repentance and conversion that will enable us to walk the glorious path of salvation and eternal joy.
The scriptures invite the gathered assembly of believers to examine our experiences of conversion as we ponder the experiences of our ancestors in faith.