Third Sunday of Lent
Remember the words at the very beginning of Lent as we received the ashes –“Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return” A reminder, which people nowadays often need that they are finite. That they will one day, sooner or later die.
The scriptures return insistently to this theme today. The Gospel is all warnings. The sword of King Herod, the tower at Siloam hang over us all. For us it might be a car accident or an earthquake, disease or just old age, but death is coming and this makes repentance urgent. The fig tree has a limited life span. It should bear figs. In his kindness the man digs round it, manures it, a symbol if you like of the graces that are given us. But in the end it must bear figs before it is cut down.
The heart of these warnings from Jesus isn’t that God loses patience with us, God never does, he always loves us and bears patiently with us, the point is that we only have a limited life span on earth. God gives us all the graces he can, he gives us the Sacraments, especially confession and Holy Communion, he gives us the Scriptures and the teaching and guidance of the apostles and their successors in the Church. But we only have a limited time and during that time we must bear fruit.
It is possible to get to a certain point in your life and think – if only I had lived a better life, if only I had kept the commandments more faithfully, if only I hadn’t dodged the sacrifices that were asked of me, if only I hadn’t made those terrible choices. But whilst we are alive it is never too late. If we accept the grace of God which is God’s gift of himself – then from that moment miracles can happen.
The fig tree and the burning bush are little parables. The Bush is on fire with the presence of God but it doesn’t burn up. If we are willing to accept the presence of God, that is if we embrace in prayer, in words, in actions and in love Jesus our Saviour then no matter what he asks of us we are not destroyed. We can do things – completely unexpected things – things that seem impossible we can be on fire with love – but not burnt up. If you read the lives of the Saints you see this again and again – they did, endured and became what seems impossible – they were on fire but not burnt up.
The fig tree reminds us that the origin of this fire, of these great deeds of the Saints is always the grace of God. The man who digs around the fig tree and feeds it, who pleads on behalf of the tree for just one more year, is surely an image of Jesus himself as our saviour. Caring for us, feeding us, pleading for us.
Never mind mid-life crisis – think of mid-lent or nearly mid-lent crisis. How has lent gone thus far? Have we borne fruit? If not let Jesus dig around us, feed us, be determined to bear fruit tomorrow and remember that with the grace of God which is the presence of Our Lord we can do things we though impossible – we can catch fire without being burnt. Who knows we might even manage daily Mass during the rest of Lent.