The Third Sunday of Lent ( Year C) ~ The Warning of the Fig Tree
Before we begin, there are two liturgical texts for this and the following two Sundays. An alternate set from Year A is often used when Catechumens are present. But these are the prescribed texts for the day from the Gospel of St. Luke.
I must say that I found the first part of today’s gospel obscure–as did our scripture scholar, William Barclay. However, we can salvage this much: There’s a line in the first section about two catastrophes–incidents that are unknown to us, but then Jesus goes on to warn his hearers that if they did not repent they too would perish. What did he mean?
Jesus was warning them of what he foresaw and foretold: the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70 (cf. Lk. 21:21-24). He knew, sadly, that if they went on with their intrigues, their rebellions, their plottings, and their political ambitions, they were going to commit national suicide. He knew Rome would obliterate the nation, and that is what happened.
And there is a warning for us today. For years I’ve been imploring my readers to pray personal transformation for the sake of the transformation of our nation. And in the present atmosphere of our country, looking ahead to the next election, again such prayer, and Jesus’ warning is quite apropos, as is the second part of today’s gospel—the parable of the fig tree . . . .
Barclay offers us several things to learn about this famous parable that I hadn’t realized before.
First, the fig tree occupied a specially favored position. It was not unusual to see fig trees, thorn trees and apple trees in the same vineyards. The soil was so shallow and poor that trees were grown wherever there was soil to grow them but the fig tree had its chance, and had not proved worthy of it.
Very often, Jesus reminded people, and by implication in this parable, that they would be judged according to the opportunities they had.
Second, the parable teaches that uselessness invites disaster. The whole process of evolution in this world is to produce useful things, and what is useful will go on, while what is useless will be eliminated. The most searching question any of us can ask is—“Of what use were we in this world?”
During this Lent, it might be well to take stock of the opportunities that we’ve had in life and how we responded to them. Now that I’ve returned to my Diocese of Orlando this spring, that’s kinda what I’ve been doing.
Third, the parable teaches that nothing that only takes, survives.The fig tree was drawing strength and sustenance from the soil; and in return was producing nothing. That, Barclay says, was precisely its sin. There are two kinds of people in the world—those who take out more than they put in, and those who put in more than they take out. We’ve inherited a Christian civilization and the great freedoms of this land. It’s our responsibility to hand them on to the generations to come, perhaps better than we found them. As for me, I am grateful for the opportunities for education my parents and my bishops have provided me, and the gifts God has given me to serve him and his people.
Fourth, the parable tells us of the gospel of the second chance. A fig tree, our scripture scholar tells us from his research, normally takes three years to reach maturity. If it doesn’t bear fruit by that time, it’s not likely to bear fruit at all. But this fig tree was given a second chance. In our sinfulness, it’s hard for us to realize the true depth and nature of our sin. This Lent is a good time to make a thoughtful review of our life and create a clean heart. Won’t you make a good confession before Easter?
It’s Jesus’ way to give us chance after chance after chance. Peter and Paul would gladly witness to that. God is forever kind to those who fall and rise again.
And that perhaps is the most important meaning for us to receive from this parable today, God never gives up on us! He will never give up on you! Ever! Ever, Ever! God doesn’t abandon us; it is we who abandon him. And that perhaps may be our sin. That we think that we aren’t any good. That we’re not worth it. But that’s really a sin of pride, isn’t it?
Fifth, the gospel makes it quite clear there’s a final chance. If we refuse chance after chance, if God’s appeal and challenge come again and again without us even turning towards him, the day finally comes, not when God has shut us out, but we by deliberate choice we refuse his grace and turn our back on him definitively.
But even in that, there may be something psychological that is operative in that person that would diminish that person’s guilt, and save him in spite of himself.
Awake, O sleeper, rise from death,
And Christ will give you light,
So learn his love ~ his length and breadth
It’s fullness, depth and height
For he descended here to bring
From sin and fears release
To give the Spirit’s unity
Which is the bond of peace.
For us Christ lived, for us he died
And conquered in the strife.
Awake, arise, go forth in faith,
And Christ shall give you life!
And now here’s a Lenten hymn for you, “Beyond the Days of Hope and Mystery.” Click here