WHAT REALLY DESTROYS LIFE IS OUR UNWILLINGNESS TO REPENT AND CHANGE OUR LIVES
(A biblical reflection on the 3rd Sunday of Lent [Year C] – March 20, 2022)
Gospel Reading: Luke 13:1-9
First Reading: Exekiel 3:1-8,13-15; Psalms: Psalm 103:1-4,6-8,11; Second Reading: 1Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12
The Scripture Text
There were some present at that very time who told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No: but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
And He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig it about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9)
Today’s Gospel gives us two other examples of disasters that occurred in Christ’s lifetime. One of the incidents was the ruthless murder of some Galileans while they were in the middle of their Temple sacrifices. The victims were probably political agitators and this was Pilate’s way of silencing them.
The other incident was a construction accident which happened near the Temple during the building of a water aquaduct. Apparently it was a project hated by the Jews because Temple funds were stolen by Pilate to finance it.
These two incidents are brought up because the Jews presumed that those who were killed were being punished by God for their sins. But Jesus denies this. Instead, He asserts that what really destroys life is our unwillingness to repent and change our lives.
Jesus says, not once, but twice by way of emphasis: “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” The repetition of this teaching is followed by a parable about a fig tree.
Usually it takes a fig tree three years to mature and bear fruit. If it is not producing fruit by that time, it likely never will and so it can be cut down. But this fig tree had already been given twice the allotted number of years it takes to produce fruit, for the owner of the vineyard had allowed three more years to pass in fruitless expectation.
And yet, the owner will give the fig tree still one more chance. His vinedressers will do even more than is necessary to help by hoeing and maturing it. All this on the grounds of a perhaps or a maybe.
This parable is a perennial one for us. Every Lent God gives us one more chance to produce more fruit in our lives. God is more than generous with the opportunities He gives us to reform our lives.
All of us have some areas that need changing: maybe we watch too much television, smoke too often or eat the wrong kind of food; perhaps we criticize too much, are too impatient or too demanding; maybe we waste too much time, neglect our work or avoid unpleasant tasks.
But if year after year our lives are fruitless in personal growth, sterile in prayer and empty of good works, then we are a barren fig tree. We can’t blame accidents or sickness or other people for our condition. We have to take responsibility for our own lives.
Even terminal cancer patients can cultivate the will to live productively with the time they have left. For example, before she/he died, a well known person can write a newspaper column to encourage other victims of cancer. Even amputees can take on new challenges. For example, the American Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. relearned how to ski.
What destroys life in us then are not accidents or tragedies, but our unwillingness to accept difficulties and overcome them; to accept suffering and transform it. What makes our lives fruitless are not their circumstances or limitations, but our refusal to give it one more try and hoe our ground for one more year.
This Lent is a season of grace. It may be our last one as it was for the people who died since last Easter. Now is the time for us to reform our lives so that they will be more productive. Now is the time to make whatever changes are necessary so that our fig tree in the Lord’s vineyard will bear more fruit in personal growth, prayer and community service.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, without Your life in me I will dry up and die. Come and reign in me, I welcome You in my heart today, Come, Lord, and bear Your fruit through me. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 March 2022
A Christian Pilgrim