Third Sunday of Lent
Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’
He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig around it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”
The Galileans and the people the tower fell on were no greater sinners than anyone else. Jesus is very direct when he makes clear that death as a consequence of persecution or disaster is not a punishment for sin. But it is a warning that repentance should never be delayed as events might unfold which mean that death occurs before repentance.
In one part of the reading Jesus urged action without delay with regard to repentance. In the second part he delays cutting down the tree so it might have another year to produce fruit.
The two parts of the reading go together beautifully as a lesson about dealing with sins and faults. It is our responsibility to acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness, and nothing should delay that action. At the same time God is willing to give us more opportunities to take this course of action. He will bring us back again and again to face some aspect of our lives which needs addressing. If we back away from action, he will re-present the opportunity in another form.
Our God respects the great gift of free will given to every person. That does not mean we are left to our own devices while God watches from a distance. Sin is an impediment to living our lives to the full as God intended, and it contains the potential to separate us from him. It interferes in our relationship with the God who loves us.
When we can’t quite step up to the plate in a particular situation, and know we have failed in some way, or have missed the opportunity to do some good, then a simple prayer is enough - “Lord, give me the opportunity again, and the grace to respond”.