Third Sunday of Lent
Luke 13: 1-9
In today’s Gospel I was struck by Jesus’ image of a gardener who is willing to invest more energy and resources in a tree that has not served its purpose. What the owner of the tree says seems fair and just: the tree has not born fruit in three years, yet it continues to take up space and nourishment from the garden’s soil. Why shouldn’t he cut down a tree that offers no value, but continues to demand resources and maintenance? The gardener, however, insists on nourishing the tree instead of chopping it down. His decision is based in something deeper than logic. He demonstrates patience and hope in this infertile tree.
And yet today’s Gospel begins with a very different tone. Referring to the Galileans and the 18 killed by the tower of Siloam, twice someone in the crowd asked Jesus, “Did they die because they were worse sinners?” Both times, Jesus responded, “By no means—but if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Within nine verses, we encounter the compassion and patience of God alongside a warning that we will perish if we do not repent.
When I read this Gospel, I remembered the conversation about my friend, John. I knew in my gut that the Christian response was not to cut off the friendship. As Christians, we are called to nourish and love before pursuing what we consider fair. This teaching is difficult. But it helps us to better understand how God loves.
Perhaps there are parts of our lives have not developed and produced as we hoped they would, or things for which we must repent. The purpose of repentance—and of this season of Lent—is not to become fixated on our weaknesses. Rather, our repentance helps us to recognize how much extra time and nourishment God offers us, especially when in the name of justice or fairness, God could say our time has expired.
Our repentance begins with recognizing the wrong we have done and the good we have failed to do. Christian repentance, however, leads us beyond what we have done. Christian repentance helps us to recognize the profound love God offers. This love nourishes our whole being and animates us. Because of God’s love, we can respond to our friends, our family members, and to our hardships in a new, radical way that bears fruit.
February 27th, 2016