Third Sunday of Lent – Year C – February 28, 2016
Ex 3, 1-8a.13-15; Ps 103; 1 Cor 10, 1-6.10-12; Lk 13.1 – 9
Third Sunday of Lent
Dt 6,4a; 18.9 – 22; Ps 105; Rm 3.21 – 26; Jn 8.31 – 59
Sunday of Abraham
Love as a way to conversion.
The central theme of today’s Gospel is conversion-penance. The clue is given by two events that actually happened in Jesus’ time and that are found only in the Gospel of St. Luke. One involves some Galileans killed by Pilate and the other is about 18 people crushed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam (a defensive work that was in the city walls to the southeast of Jerusalem, next to the Siloam spring).
Asked why these people died, Jesus answers that the victims were not guiltier than the other inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jesus, instead of giving an answer regarding the evil in the world and the death of men, suggests to look to misfortunes not as a punishment, but as a warning. In fact, the real misfortune, the real killer disease is sin that separates us from God, the source of life, and from the other human beings, making our personal and social life unlivable. The Savior admonishes: “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did” (Lk 13, 5).
It is surprising that Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, has a tone so harsh and categorical. Fortunately, St. Luke, “the evangelist of mercy”, adds to these words of harsh warning, the parable of the barren fig tree. This parable allows to understand that the statement of the divine judgment that befalls relentlessly on those who do not convert, should be understood taking into account the deepest original intention of God, who “does not want the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his wickedness and live “(Ezek 33:11).
There is a secret of mercy in the barren fig tree parable and in the turn that the story takes. The owner of the vineyard is God at the terrible time of the final judgment. The winemaker is Christ and he would be in charge of the cutting of the sterile tree. But something happens in the relationship between the Father and the Son; the time is widened- a year (and since then, more than 2000 years have been given) – as a new chance. Everything is grace. Our conversion too is the work of God in Jesus. It is reassuring to see that the time of mercy is expanded, but do not forget that the Lord acts in this way to make our conversion possible and not to postpone it indefinitely.
Let’s not forget that conversion does not consist of things to do, but in the encounter with Christ and in converging toward him our heart, our mind and, therefore, our actions. It is a conversion to Christ, Truth that illuminates and Love that donates himself. Every baptized person, beyond any limit of time, space or culture, is called to this conversion, taking, as a unique sign, love that becomes forgiveness and mercy. In this service (diakonia) of love our eyes are opened to what God does for us and how He loves us. Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God comes near to us. “(Pope Benedict XVI).
For this reason Pope Francis continues: “Christ’s commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15, 12) is not a simple precept, which is always something abstract or outward in respect to life. It is the path of love. A concrete path, a path that leads us out of ourselves in order to reach out to others. Jesus showed us that God’s love is realized in the love of the neighbor” (Pope Francis).
If a person does not convert to God and to the neighbor, if he or she does not change heart and mind, if he or she wanders by means other than one that is Christ, he or she will not be converted into a builder of peace and justice. The Earth then will be ruined because it is founded on the sand of violence, hatred and injustice.
Humble repentance and patient Mercy.
In the final part of today’s Gospel, Jesus completes his teaching on conversion (that is urgent) by telling the parable of the fig tree that does not bear fruit. Doing so He reveals the loving patience of God who knows how to wait because He is the “holy and merciful Father, who never abandons his children”. For our part we have to ask God to break the toughness of our mind and heart, so that we grasp his teachings with the simplicity of children and bear fruit of true and ongoing conversion”. (Collect of today’s Mass). Therefore, God is patient, merciful and source of all goodness, but He asks that we beg for forgiveness with simple humility, because only if we recognize the misery of the sin that crushes us on the ground, He lifts us with his mercy (see Collect).
If, contrite, we present to Christ our pain, He will confirm us in His love.
To live Lent is to become aware of the urgency of conversion and to recognize that we are like the fig, full of leaves but bare of fruit, for which Jesus, the thoughtful winemaker, invokes the patience of the Father. By the grace of God, once again we still have a bit of time. The days of Lent have returned also this year so that, repented, we turn decisively and permanently toward Christ. In allowing him to take care of us we will be able to bear fruits of love.
The way of our return is Jesus; in Him and for Him everything is fulfilled. Christ is the highest and clearest sign of patient Mercy, who tells us the parable of the barren fig tree to stress the urgency of conversion not in terms of time but of love.
On the one hand, the supplication of Jesus obtains that the Father “uses” his patient Mercy, from the other hand, invites us to value life and to live it to the full and overflowing of good doing.
Each of us is a person conquered by the love of Christ; each of us is moved by this love that tenderly possess us and, therefore, moves us, impels us, urges us, and opens us to the love of the neighbor.
Each of us is called to turn to God, leaving the sin not because of fear of his punishments, but because distances our hearts from Him. If our hearts are converted to God, God “converts” to us, will not “hide his face “(Tb 13: 6) and we will experience his merciful love.
Virginity as a stable form of conversion.
The conversion is not reducible to the gesture of a moment or of a time more or less long. It is to live in constant orientation toward God. Our daily journey, although if during Lent should be brisker, must be in the path pointed out by the Gospel until the achievement of the “full stature of Christ” (Eph 4, 13). If this statement is correct, as I think it is, conversion is an essential component of the life of the consecrated Virgins in the world, who are committed to the radical following of Christ. This complete discipleship is made stable by the virginal consecration of these women who conform to the kind of virginal and humble life which Christ, the Lord, chose for himself and that the Virgin Mother embraced. Virginity should not be seen as a “no” to love. The one who adheres completely to Christ, says “yes” to His pure love. Pure: this is a word to which there is the risks to give a reductive and moralistic interpretation because it reminds of its opposite, impure. In fact, pure brings to my mind, first and foremost, something that is as it should be. Pure water, pure air, pure intention. Or even pure metal like gold and silver. Virginal purity is like a beauty without stain, like a clear, true and authentic gaze. Pure like the “yes” of the Virgin, the One all pure and all beautiful: pure, namely true. During this Lent, may the example of the Virgin Mary and of all the women who have consecrated themselves to her Son in virginity, make our hearts pure. Our love then will be enriched by the love of God. It will not be an impoverished love, but a love made stronger and more fruitful.
Saint Augustine of Hyppo (354 – 430)
Sermon LX. [CX. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Lc 13,6 Where we are told of the fig-tree, which bare no fruit for three years; and of the woman which was in an infirmity eighteen years; and on the words of the ninth Ps 9,19 “arise, o Lord; let not man prevail: let the nations be judged in thy sight.”
1). Touching “the fig-tree” which had its three years’ trial, and bare no fruit, and “the woman which was in an infirmity eighteen years,” hearken to what the Lord may grant me to say. The fig-tree is the human race. And the three years are the three times; one before the Law, the second under the Law, the third under grace. Now there is nothing unsuitable in understanding by “the fig-tree” the human race. For when the first man sinned, he covered his nakedness with fig-leaves;1 covered those members, from which we derive our birth. For what before his sin should have been his glory, after sin became his shame. So before that, “they were naked, and were not ashamed.”2 For they had no reason to blush, when no sin had gone before; nor could they blush for their Creator’s works, because they had not yet mingled any evil work of their own with the good works of their Creator. For they had not yet eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of which they had been forbidden to eat. After then that they had eaten and sinned, the human race sprang from them; that is, man from man, debtor from debtor, mortal from mortal, sinner from sinner. In this “tree” then he entitles those, who through the whole range of time would not bear fruit; and for this cause the axe was hanging over the unfruitful tree. The gardener intercedes for it, punishment is deferred, that help may be administered. Now the gardener who intercedes, is every saint who within the Church prays for those who are without the Church. And what does he pray? “Lord, let it alone this year also;” that is, in this time of grace, spare the sinners, spare the unbelievers, spare the barren, spare the unfruitful. “I will dig about it, and put a basket of dung about it; if it bear fruit, well; but if not, thou shall come and cut it down.”3 “Thou shall come:” When? Thou shalt come in judgment, when Thou shall come to judge the quick and dead. Meanwhile they are spared. But what is the “digging “? What is the “digging about it,” but the teaching lowliness and repentance? For a ditch is low ground. The basket of dung understand in its good effects. It is filthy, but it produces fruit. The gardener’s filth is the sinner’s sorrows. They who repent, repent in filthy robes; if, that is, they understand aright, and repent in truth. To this tree then is it said, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”4
2) What is that “woman who was in an infirmity eighteen years”? In six days God finished His works. Three times six are eighteen. What the “three years” then in “the tree” signified, that do the “eighteen years” in this woman. She was bent down, she could not look up; because in vain did she hear, “Up with your hearts.” But the Lord made her straight. There is hope then, for the children, that is, even until the day of judgment come. Man ascribes much to himself. Yet what is man? A righteous man is something great. But yet a righteous man is righteous only by the grace of God. “For what is man, save that thou art mindful of him?”5 Wouldest thou see what man is? “All men are liars.”6 We have chanted, “Arise, Lord; let not man prevail.”7 What is, “let not man prevail”? Were not the Apostles men? Were not Martyrs men? The Lord Jesus Himself, without ceasing to be God, vouchsafed to be Man. What then is, “Arise, Lord; let not man prevail”? If “all men are liars; arise,” Truth, “let not” falsehood “prevail.” If man then would be anything good, it must not be of anything of his own. For if he should wish to be anything of his own he will be “a liar.” If he would wish to be true, he must be so of that which is from God, not of anything of his own.
3) Therefore, “Arise, Lord; let not man prevail.” So much did lying prevail before the flood, that after the flood only eight men remained.8 By them the earth was again replenished with lying men, and out of them was elected the people of God. Many miracles were wrought, divine benefits imparted. They were brought right through to the land of promise, delivered from Egyptian bondage: Prophets were raised up among them, they received the temple, they received the priesthood, they received the anointing, they received the Law. Yet of this very people was it said afterwards, “The strange children have lied unto me.”9 At last He was sent who had been promised afore by the Prophets. “Let not man prevail,” even the more, because that God was made Man. But even He, though He did divine works, was despised, though He showed forth so many acts of mercy, He was apprehended, He was scourged, He was hanged. Thus far “did man prevail,” to apprehend the Son of God, to scourge the Son of God, to crown the Son of God with thorns, to hang the Son of God upon the tree. So far “did man prevail:” how far, but up to the time that having been taken down from the tree, He was laid in the sepulchre? If He had remained there, man would have “prevailed” indeed. But this prophecy addresses the very Lord Jesus Himself, saying, “Arise, Lord, let not man prevail.” O Lord, Thou hast vouchsafed to come in the flesh, the Word made Flesh. The Word above us, the Flesh among us, the Word-flesh10 between God and Man: Thou didst choose a virgin to be born from according to the flesh, when Thou wast to be conceived, Thou didst find a Virgin; when Thou wast born, Thou didst leave a Virgin. But Thou wast not acknowledged; Thou wast Seen, and yet wast hidden. Infirmity was seen, Power was hidden. All this was done, that Thou mightest shed that Blood, which is our Price. Thou didst so great miracles, didst give health to the weaknesses of the sick, didst show forth many acts of mercy, and receivedst evil for good. They mocked Thee, Thou didst hang upon the tree; the ungodly wagged their heads before Thee, and said, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”11 Hadst Thou then lost Thy power, or rather wast Thou showing forth Thy Patience? and yet they mocked Thee, and yet they derided Thee, yet, when Thou wast slain, they went away as if victorious. Lo, Thou art laid in the sepulchre: “Arise, Lord, let not man prevail.” “Let not” the ungodly enemy “prevail, let not” the blind Jew “prevail.” For when Thou wert crucified, the Jew in his blindness seemed to himself to have “prevailed.” “Arise, Lord, let not man prevail.” It is done, yea, it is done. And now what remains, but that “the nations be judged in thy sight”? For He hath risen again, as ye know, and ascended into heaven; and from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.