Third Sunday of Lent, March 3, 2013
Reflections for the Lenten Season
Third Sunday of Lent, March 3, 2013
Live in the Ways of God
Luke 13:1-9 (pdf)
When I was in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, one of my housemates posed the following question to our community: Is having hope a necessary dimension of being a Christian? Is hope a Christian obligation?
Like the people who confront Jesus today, when confronted by the reality of great suffering, I was perplexed and depressed by conceptions I held about suffering and God’s love. Like these Galileans, I had internalized the idea that fortuity and happiness were the proof of God’s presence with us. I did not know how to reconcile the injustice I saw around me and the belief that blessed are God´s beloved. If God´s love is manifested by earthly blessings, then there was an acute absence of God in the pain and poverty I witnessed.
The people in the gospel face similar questions about suffering and grace. The crowd asks Jesus, ‘Did those Galileans suffer in this way because they were greater sinners than us?’ that is, does suffering indicate a falling away from God’s grace? I think the real underlying questions are: Are we safe? If we avoid sin, will we avoid suffering? And ultimately, if we suffer, does that mean that we are less loved by God?
“By no means!” is Jesus’ response. He unhesitatingly rebukes these fearful, doubting questions. Jesus urges us to repent—seek reconciliation and forgiveness for the wrong we do. Change. If we return to the source of life and love, we will not perish. Just as the branches need the vine, so do we need to live in the ways of God to have life. The chains that enslave and restrain people to lives of violence are ones born out of cycles of poverty and imperialism—that have not to do with the presence or absence of God to those suffering. Jesus does not promise us an escape from suffering, but instead the incredible promise of new life. The way to life is in fact the way of the cross.
Following Christ necessitates a deep commitment to hope. It requires the courage and patience to continually re-commit to the belief that we are loved, that justice is at work in the world. That change can and will come. A Christian faith demands a life that is faithful to the hope and redemption of the cross and to building the kingdom of God, here and now.
In this Gospel reading, I find comfort in the gardener’s words. So often I have heard this same cynicism and weariness expressed by voices that come from both outside and from within; “Cut it down. Stop trying. This is a waste of time. What good comes from continued waiting, continued efforts, continued hope? What fruits can be shown for our labor? What proof is there of its worth? Why are we exhausting ourselves with such efforts?”
The gardener knows that the tree has not yet born fruit. The tree is not fulfilling its purpose as a fruit tree when it does not bear figs. But the gardener is patient. The gardener replies to the hasty man that would like to see the tree cut down, “Give me a little more time. Let’s see if perhaps this tree will bear fruit next year. Perhaps its time has not come yet. Let me add my efforts to its growth.”
The words of the gardener are the words of our God. Do not be hasty, do not give up hope—not on ourselves nor on this world. It takes time to bear good fruits.
In this time of Lent, I so often find myself feeling frustrated like the man who planted the tree. Things are not happening as fast as I would like, in the timeframe I had imagined. I am not yet patient, nor kind, nor gentle, nor generous, nor honest, nor prayerful. There is still so much violence, pollution, illness, hunger, exploitation. In what ways am I bearing good fruit? In what ways am I simply exhausting the soil with my cynicism and my stubbornness to avoid change?
I hear the words of Jesus: Repent. Return. I find myself praying the words of the gardener, asking God for a little more time. Please, just a little more time. Do not give up on me yet. Give me a little more time.
Jesus does not deny me. Is it too late to return to the God who loves me, to return to loving myself? To be reconciled and start anew? Is it too late to hope for so much?
Jesus’ proclaims without hesitation: “By no means!”
In this season of Lent, let us return to Jesus with repentant and hope-filled hearts. Let us continue the work of the Kingdom of God and remember that there is time yet to bear good fruit.
-Allison Beyer '07
Weekly Gospel Readings for the Week of March 3rd
Luke 4:24-30 (pdf)
"But he passed through the midst of them and went away"
Matthew 18:21-35 (pdf)
"'So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.'"
Matthew 5:17-19 (pdf)
"...'whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.'"
Luke 11:14-23 (pdf)
"'Whoever is not with me is against me...'"
Mark 12:28-34 (pdf)
"'...and to love your neighbor as yourself...'"
Luke 18:9-14 (pdf)
"...'for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'"