(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm, Sunday 7.30am & 9am)
3 March 2013
(Readings: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; Ps 102; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9)
The way the Sunday Mass readings are assembled invites us often to see a contrast or parallel between the first reading and the Gospel, and this is certainly true of today’s readings. In the gospel we have the parable of the fig tree, and in the first reading we have the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush.
Moses is going about an ordinary day of tending the flock of his father-in-law when he sees a strange sight: a bush that was on fire, and yet was not being consumed by the flames. Moses is moved to investigate, and God calls to him from the bush. The bush that was burning yet not consumed speaks of the mystery of God. “The life of God is one of total self-emptying, pouring forth without ever running the well dry” (2). It speaks of God who “paradoxically finds strength in weakness and plenitude in poverty” (2). In Jesus we see this essence of God lived to the full: his strength and saving power was found by embracing human weakness, he brought life through death, and he showed that the abundance and fullness of life is gained by thirsting for love and truth (2).
This all stands in contrast to the barren fig tree in the gospel parable. For three years the fig tree had given no fruit. “The life of the fig tree was one of total self-gratification, leeching off the ground while giving no return” (2). The man who planted the tree quite reasonably decides that the time has come to cut it down. “Why should it exhaust the soil?” – always taking and never giving (2).
In considering the two images, where do we find ourselves? It’s easy to become like the fig tree. We can get so caught up in ourselves and our own desires that we become unwilling to sacrifice a little bit of our own comfort for the greater good of our family. Husbands and wives can withhold themselves by contraception and so fail to offer the total gift of self to each other. Those in public office can see re-election as their main goal, and so they put aside other considerations in the name of gaining votes. Priests can fall out of the practice of prayer and lose their zeal for ministry, “becoming more vigilant for their own interests than for the welfare of their parishioners” (2).
The parable of the fig tree is meant to be a warning to us: this is not what we are meant to be like, and we shouldn’t settle for this type of existence: of taking more than we give. Rather, each one of us, no matter what our particular vocation is, each one of us is called to come closer to the Lord, and to become more like him. We are called to resemble more the image of the Lord in the burning bush: of taking less and giving more. God wants us to respond to his graces and to bear fruit.
Just as the man tending the vineyard gives the fig tree another year to bear fruit, with the promise of digging round it and fertilizing it, God is merciful, and God is always “at work within each of us. He draws us slowly, and subtly, away from our fig tree tendencies … [and] draws us silently and steadily closer to himself” (2).
The Lord wants us to be “on fire” with his love, “burning” with his Spirit, and bearing the fruits of the spirit. “Each one of us has the power to make small, daily decisions to make ourselves resemble the burning bush more than the fig tree” (2). We are called not just to avoid sin, but to bear those fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (4).
This period of Lent is a graced time when God wants to do that work of “digging and fertilizing” so that we will bear fruit. Lent is a time when “we let ‘the gardener,’ Christ, cultivate our hearts, uprooting what chokes the divine life in us, strengthening us to bear fruits that will last into eternity” (5).
For our part, we need to open ourselves to God’s work in us. Our extra attention during Lent to prayer, fasting, and generosity are ways that we can allow God to “get into” our lives and to fill us with his graces. Let’s pray this [morning] that we will open ourselves to what God wants to do in our lives, so that we can live the life spoken of in today’s Psalm: blessing His holy name, and giving thanks for His kindness and mercy (5).
4. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 736, 1830-1832). http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/736.htm