In the Church, we are made children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God who makes known His name and His ways to Moses in today’s First Reading.
Mindful of His covenant with Abraham (see Exodus 2:24), God came down to rescue His people from the slave-drivers of Egypt. Faithful to that same covenant (see Luke 1:54-55, 72-73), He sent Jesus to redeem all lives from destruction, as today’s Psalm tells us.
Paul says in today’s Epistle that God’s saving deeds in the Exodus were written down for the Church, intended as a prelude and foreshadowing of our own Baptism by water, our liberation from sin, our feeding with spiritual food and drink.
Yet the events of the Exodus were also given as a “warning” – that being children of Abraham is no guarantee that we will reach the promised land of our salvation.
At any moment, Jesus warns in today’s Gospel, we could perish – not as God’s punishment for being “greater sinners” – but because, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we stumble into evil desires, fall into grumbling, forget all His benefits.
Jesus calls us today to “repentance” – not a one-time change of heart, but an ongoing, daily transformation of our lives. “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Referring to the tragedies current in those days
God made us in love and gave us free will, freedom to choose how to respond, how to act. Jesus says don’t be distracted by looking at what happened to someone else. Instead, look at yourself – while you still have time.
Jesus refuses to get caught up in the question of whether or not what someone else is doing, or why things happen to them and instead asks another question: What in your life needs repenting, acknowledging, and turning around? What needs to be turned over to God? What needs to be forgiven?
Things will happen. And while the gift of earthly life is still ours, we need to ask ourselves, how is our relationship with God? Do we love our neighbours as ourselves? Are we relieving the suffering of others or just pointing our fingers at them and trying to connect the dots between their suffering and sin?
Our own repentance is the issue, because deserving isn’t. The scandal at the heart of our faith is that God already loves us; that God doesn’t need a ledger or tally sheet because we don’t do anything to deserve God’s love. We have no favour to earn, because God already sees us as God’s beloved ones. All we have to do is live and explore the amazing mystery of our acceptance. We can’t lose God’s favour and make bad things happen to us because we don’t earn God’s favour in the first place.
Life is short. Don’t be distracted by the wrong questions. And don’t be disappointed if Jesus asks you to love God more than you love answers. Because Jesus will do that. When people asked him questions he often responded not with an answer, but with a story. Like he did in the next part of the Gospel lesson.
A man planted a fig tree. The fig tree in His parable is a familiar Old Testament symbol for Israel. The fig tree used up a lot of nutrients but didn’t produce any figs. “Why should I let this do-nothing fig tree use up good soil?” asked the man. “Cut it down.” But the gardener replies, “Let it be for one more year. I will do everything I can for it. If it bears fruit, great! If not, cut it down.”
The gardener in this story is not efficient, practical, or exercising his authority to do what’s most logical. He’s going to waste more nutrients, efforts, and space on a tree that doesn’t show any signs of producing figs.
Does the fig tree deserve it?
That’s not the question. It’s just a story about a fig tree and an extravagant gardener who should remind us of another gardener from way back in the beginning, who just couldn’t help it when he picked up some dirt. God just had to form it into a human and breathe life into it. God just had to make it into someone to love, someone who would be free to choose to love in return. Maybe we can hear this gardener at work in our own lives, saying, “Wait. Give me another year. I’ll do all that I can to nurture this tree.”
Lent should be for us like the season of reprieve given to the fig tree, a grace period in which we let “the gardener,” Christ, cultivate our hearts, uprooting what chokes the divine life in us, strengthening us to bear fruits that will last into eternity. God will always give us another chance. But will we give God a chance?