Sunday, March 3, 2013

Orchards and Promises

A barren fig tree
Readings for Sunday, March 3/ 3rd Sunday of Lent:
Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

When we began the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, we came forward and as the cross was marked on our forehead we each heard the invitation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The whole season of Lent is about this one message, repentance; turning away from sin and allowing our hearts to be purified by the Lord to live the Gospel more perfectly in our daily lives. Today in the scriptures the Lord speaks once more of this call to repentance and shows us the results if we fail to heed it.

In the first reading we are reminded of the great Old Testament figure of Moses, who comes into contact with the Lord at the burning bush. God reveals His name to Moses, thus forming a unique relationship with the Israelite people, and assures him that He has heard the prayers of the people to be freed from their slavery in Egypt. Soon, the Lord promises, they would be led out of that land and brought to the Promised Land, a land of great prosperity and life, symbolically described as ‘flowing with milk and honey’. This was great news for Moses and the Israelite community and with joy they set out to enter this Promised Land. But, as St. Paul reveals to us in his letter to the Corinthians, the people of Israel were struck down in the desert because they failed to truly repent from their sins. Rather than trusting in the Lord and following wholeheartedly, they doubted, challenged, and even went against the Lord. For this they were kept out of the Promised Land; they didn’t receive the promised inheritance they longed for in being set free from slavery.

St. Paul pointed out in his letter that it is for us to learn from the mistakes of the Israelites and show true repentance. He says this because, like the Israelites over 3000 years ago, we too have a Promised Land awaiting us. All throughout the New Testament Jesus is shown doing various things and travelling to a whole litany of locations and all of this is for a purpose. As He travels and acts, He is constantly fulfilling the stories begun so many years ago. He is the New Adam, the New Noah, the New Abraham, the New Isaac, and many others. For our reflection today, it is important to see that He comes as the New Moses – the one who has come to set us free not from earthly slavery but slavery to sin, that we might enter into a Promised Land not here on earth but one in the heavenly home of the Most Blessed Trinity. And just as we know that many of the Israelites failed to enter the earthly Promised Land, the Lord reminds us that just because we’ve been set free from sin doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed entry. We have to show that we want to remain with Him for eternity. This is the why He uses the image of the barren fig tree.

The parable of the fig tree that the Lord explains is nothing other than the story of our lives. The orchard is the Promised Land, the owner is the Father, we are the trees. To be clear right off the bat, not a single one of us deserves the Promised Land – every one of us, because we have sinned many times over, deserves not heaven but hell. We are like that fig tree that doesn’t bear any fruit and should be cut down and cast out of that place into the darkness. But thanks to the caring gardener, the Lord Jesus, we are spared for a time. His hope in us in incredible – having seen our fruitlessness for so long, He still has hope that we can be converted and bear good fruit. And so He comes to us to fertilize our souls and this He does by pouring out on us His abundance grace. He fills us with His very life through the Eucharist and Reconciliation. He speaks to us through the scriptures. He shows Himself to us as we go out to serve others, finding Him in them and even in ourselves. These and so many ways are the manners in which Christ gives Himself in hopes that we might begin to bear fruit of repentance, holiness, virtue, and good works. This is what He wants of us and this is what we should want for ourselves. To produce fruit not only means that we can remain in the orchard, but also that we give joy to the gardener and owner.

My brothers and sisters, we were created to be in Heaven, but the fact is that by so many of our actions – or lack of action – we show the Lord that we are more concerned with ourselves than we are with Him. The gates of Heaven have been opened for us and the Promised Land awaits – the question for each of us today is are we willing to actually turn away from sin and live such that we can enter into the glory that awaits us or are we content to remain forever on the outside of the heavenly orchard?