March 24, 2019 — Third Sunday of Lent
Today’s readings capture the essence of God’s Lenten message to us, His people, offering words of compassion and mercy as well as warning of the need to repent and make the most of the gift of time He has given us.
The First Reading, from Exodus, recounts Moses’ first encounter with the living God who provides reassurance of His nearness to the people in their suffering and tells of His desire to deliver them from slavery into freedom and fullness of life. He tells Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them… and lead them… into a land flowing with milk and honey.” This compassionate God goes even farther, revealing His name to the people as a sign of intimacy with them and telling them, “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”
Our Second Reading, from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that God, though full of mercy and compassion, is also just, and that there will be consequences for our behavior. He admonishes us, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”
Today’s Gospel passage includes the familiar parable of the unfruitful fig tree. It is preceded by an interesting dialogue between Jesus and some people reporting the news of the day, asking for His “take” on the matter. They tell Jesus about a bloody massacre that some Galileans had suffered at the hands of Pilate. They expected Him to confirm their view that the Galileans had done something to deserve such a death. But Jesus defies their expectation, telling them that the people who died such an awful death were no more sinful than they themselves are. He goes on to say the same of another recent event in which a group of people had been killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. They, too, Jesus says, were no more sinful than anyone else. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when tragedy struck.
The point He is making is that life is precious and the gift of time on this earth is just that — a gift. None of us knows how much time will be granted to us, so it is urgent that we use this gift intentionally to glorify God and serve our neighbor.
Jesus offers the parable of the fig tree to further illustrate this truth. The owner of the orchard came searching for fruit on a fig tree he had had planted in his orchard. Finding no fruit on the tree after three years, he told the gardener to cut it down. But the gardener intercedes and asks for one more year to cultivate and fertilize the tree in hopes it would bear fruit in the future. The fig tree was not dying; it simply wasn’t doing much of anything at all. Can this be said of us and our lives as well?
The season of Lent is a time to reflect carefully on the way we spend our time. Do we give first priority to God, tending to our spiritual growth and sacramental life with diligence? Do we give next priority to our loved ones, focusing intentionally on them each day without distractions from phones, screens or thoughts of work? If not, now is the moment to repent of our waste of time or of misplaced priorities on our use of time. God is merciful but just. Let’s turn to Him and ask Him to make our lives fruitful while we still have time to do so.