If I asked you what was miraculous about the first reading I’m sure the most common answer would be the burning bush. After all, that’s what draws the attention of Moses; he notices that a bush is on fire but the plant itself isn’t burning up and being consumed, so he goes to take a closer look. And then something much more miraculous happens: the Lord reveals His name to His people. To know someone’s name is to be have relationship with them, it means that you know who they are. And when we had done nothing to earn it, the Lord made himself present to us. He came to us… and said this is who I AM. I am the God of your ancestors, I am the God who will deliver you from slavery, I am the Lord who will remain with you. The Lord upholds the promise he made to Abraham that we heard proclaimed last week.
But St. Paul reminds us of how the story continues. The Israelites respond to that revelation and relationship with the Lord half-heartedly and worship the golden calf. The Lord chastises them with the forty years in the desert, but has mercy and ultimately brings them to the Promised Land. Then over generations they begin to stray again and fall into idolatry, and the Lord sends them the judges and the prophets to call them back. Then they start to trust in themselves and their own might, and the Lord humbles them with exile before returning them back to the holy city of Jerusalem. That’s the great overall theme of the Old Testament: God loves His people despite this cycle where they lose focus and stray from Him, then He brings them back, then they stray, He brings them back and so on.
And that is part of the story of our own lives. God never tires of extending us that one more chance, one more mercy, one more hope of seeing us bear great fruit in our lives… but while He may be infinite in that love we have a limited time to receive it. That’s what Jesus is trying to open our eyes to in the Gospel. He mentions two events in his lifetime where people died suddenly, one was a massacre carried out by Pilate and the other was a tower that collapsed on a crowd. None of us has the luxury of knowing when that day of judgment will come, so if we don’t repent now and really respond to the mercy that God offers then we will perish when the unexpected happens. And perish not in terms of dying but in terms of standing before the judgment seat of God with nothing to show, with no fruit in our lives, no thankfulness for what God has done.
For three years the owner of the fig tree returned to his orchard hoping to find some fruit from the tree he planted. Yes, he will be patient and merciful and give it another year… but the point is that it has already been three years. God’s Holy People had already received His mercy time and time again. So now he has cultivated the ground and fertilized it. He placed his Son into our lives to preach to us from his human heart and poured out his Blood upon the cross that we might finally wake up and respond to God in love. But my friends, while we have the infinite mercy of God we don’t have infinite time, as the Church or as individuals, to hope for another year to produce fruit. One day there is no “next year” anymore. And if we don’t respond to Christ hanging on the cross by turning back to the Lord with repentance and love for all that he has done… what more could he possibly do?
So what do we do now? Let’s start here: the land owner came to the fig tree three years looking for fruit. This happens to be the third Sunday of Lent. When he approaches you next Sunday, have something to offer him in thanksgiving.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.