Ex. 3:1-8a, 13-15; I Cor. 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13: 1-9
Pastor’s temptation and policeman’s forgiveness: In a large city, a priest parked his car in a no-parking zone because he couldn’t find a metered space. He put a note under the windshield wiper that read: “I have circled the block 100 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses.” When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: “I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.”
Dear Friends! Today’s gospel explains how God disciplines His people, invites them to repent of their sins, to renew their lives and to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Pilate killed many Galilean Jews who protested when he appropriated money from the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem, in order to obtain a better water supply for the pilgrims. Even though it was Pilate who commanded the atrocity to be carried out, the natural assumption at the time was to think that the victims were particularly guilty and must have somehow deserved it.
Jesus quotes another episode, namely, what appears to have been an accident related to the renovation work on the control tower of the water supply scheme at Siloam, in which eighteen people died. The Jews interpreted this tragedy as God’s punishment of the workers who had co-operated with Pilate in his sacrilegious aqueduct project. Jesus denies that either the Galileans or the eighteen people suffered because of their sins, but calls his listeners to repent lest they suffer for theirs.
Jesus used this as an example to illustrate the fact that there is no direct connection between sin and suffering. Jesus used these events also to show that death comes sudden, unexpected and without warning and without giving the victims an opportunity to prepare for death. Anyone could meet with sudden death like those victims of the tragedies mentioned. While sin can lead to tragedy, not every tragedy is the result of sin.
On the one hand, Jesus informs us that those who do not repent will perish. On the other hand, he tells us the parable of the fig tree about the patience of God. The fig tree was given opportunities of every kind to produce fruit, but it failed to do so. “The Lord is kind and merciful”, but he expects us not to take his mercy and patience for granted. With the help of his kindness, he expects us to grow in goodness and holiness.
The lessons we learn today: 1) We need to live lives of repentance, because we never know when we will meet a tragedy of our own. Let us repent while we have the chance. Let us turn to Christ, acknowledge our faults and failings and receive from him mercy, forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. There is no better way to take these words of Jesus to heart than to go to sacramental confession; and there is no better time to go to confession than during Lent.
2) We need to be fruitful trees in God’s orchard. Lent is an ideal time “to dig around and manure” the tree of our life so that it may bring forth fruits. The fruits God expects from us during Lent are repentance, renewal of life and the resulting virtues of love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selfless and humble service. Let us start producing fruits in the family by becoming more sensitive to the feelings of others, and by accepting each member of the family with love and respect. The Christian fruit of reconciliation will grow in the family when each member shows good will by forgiving others, and by asking their forgiveness. We become fruit-bearing in the community by caring for the poor, the sick, the old, and the lonely.
3) We need to make the best use of the “second chance” God gives us. Our merciful Father always gives us a second chance. The prodigal son, returning to the father, was welcomed as a son, not treated as a slave. The repentant Peter was made the head of the Church. The persecutor Saul was made Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. During Lent, we, too, are given another chance to repent and return to our heavenly Father’s love. We are also expected to give others a second chance when they ask our forgiveness.