Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent, St Vincent de Paul, 3 March 2013, (C) Lk 13:1-9
When we read the newspaper in the morning, it is often full of horrible news: conflict in a distant country, leaving innocent victims behind, a terrible road accident or the collapse of a bridge somewhere with many casualties. We often ask ourselves: Why must this happen? How can we make sense of these dreadful events?
The people in today’s gospel have quite similar questions when they approach Jesus: The brutal reaction of the Roman occupants against Galileans fighting for political freedom. 18 innocent people killed when the tower of Siloam suddenly collapsed.
‘Where is God in all of this? What does it mean from a faith perspective?’ some followers of Jesus ask. I think it is a natural question to ask for people who believe in God. One possible reaction of a believer might be to say: ‘The one who lives according to the will of God will be blessed, the one who does not, will be punished.’
If we apply this logic, we come to the conclusion: If someone experiences disaster in his life, he must have sinned. The Galileans killed by the Romans and the people who died under the collapsing tower are responsible for their misfortune. It is their fault. When others are spared and lead a happy life it must be their reward because they have pleased God.
In his reaction, Jesus clearly rejects these false images of God. God does not operate in this simple manner of punishing the bad and honouring the good. Jesus surprises his audience with the question: ‘Do you think the victims of the Romans or the people at Siloam were worse sinners than others?’ His answer is: ‘No, they were not.’ He poses the same question to us today. ‘Don’t look at others, where are you in your relationship with God?’
There is no reason for us to feel at ease and relax, pointing our fingers at others. We are all in need of repentance, nobody is perfect. At this difficult time for the Church, it must be stressed that the need of repentance includes everyone in the Church. Those who belong to the leadership on the different levels of the Church have a special responsibility to uncover the truth and to admit their own shortcomings. We will be saved by the grace of God, not by our own achievements.
At the same time, we hope that God loves us, accepts us and cares for us, just like the vinedresser cares for the fruitless fig tree. God wants our life to turn out well.
When we distribute the ashes at the beginning of lent, we say: ‘Remember that you are dust and unto dust you will return.’ Or the one who administers the ashes might say:’ Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ These words remind us of what lent is about. We remember that our life is finite and that our time is limited. But although our time is limited, there is always the chance to repent and to follow the Gospel.
In lent, we reflect on our life and ask ourselves if we are going in the direction of the Gospel. How should I live the Gospel in my daily life? Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, has a little trick which can help us to take the right decisions. He says: ‘Imagine yourself on the day of your death, looking back on your life.’ How would I have liked to have lived? Did I take the chances and opportunities that were offered to me? Did I make the world a little bit better than it was when I came into it? Did I serve others or did I do harm? Did I try to do good things and to avoid evil? Did I discern the will of God, however difficult this can be? Did I trust that God can make my life fruitful, like the vinedresser did with the fig tree?
The fruitless fig tree is an image that we can fail to live out our full potential in the eyes of God. In past generations, images like this might have prompted unnecessary fear and scruples towards God. Nowadays, we might find ourselves at the other end of the spectrum and completely ignore the urgency of repentance that is coming from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.
In any case, God wants my life to turn out good. He loves me and accepts me as I am. But he also gives me responsibility for my life. This includes that I can admit that my life can sometimes be fragmentary and scattered. With all the bits and pieces of my life, I can come to the loving and forgiving God. The fig tree gets a second chance. The vinedresser even puts in more effort. He digs around it and manures it, so that it can bear fruit. How wide the heart of God must be and how great his love that he wants to be there for me unconditionally? As we heard in the first reading, Moses had the same experience. God reveals himself to him: ‘I am the one who will be there for you.’ In all generations, it is the experience of faith that we are not alone when we dare to change our lives.
Repent and believe in the Gospel. We can make a fresh start if we give the chance to God, to the people around us and to ourselves. – Amen.