•Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15 • 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12 • Luke 13:1-9•
Weekly Scripture Readings:Third Sunday of Lent
For a printable PDF of the homily click HERE.
Recently I listened to an Islamic scholar speak here in Missoula. For the first fifteen minutes the large crowd was so mesmerized by his story you could hear a pin drop.
By the age of ten his father had memorized the Koran.
At the age of ten this scholar realized he did not know how to pray and told his father. So his father taught him how people of Islam pray. Thereafter he prayed daily but then in his adolescent years he realized his prayer was shallow and meaningless. So he discontinued, stopped praying.
Later as a young adult he experienced some sort of radical, inner awakening. He knew Allah (God) is real! He resumed his life of prayer and today is the Imam in a large Islamic community in New York City.
I think his story illustrates why so many people within our household of faith –young and old– no longer darken the doors of our parish churches. They passed through the various stages of Christian initiation without any sort of radical, inner awakening. Without some personal experience that God is real, religious expressions are hollow and empty.
Last Sunday we heard about Jesus on Mt. Tabor. He experienced, some sort of radical, inner awakening about himself.
Jesus experienced the Gracious Mystery we name God as a personal reality deep within himself. He experienced the One who patiently cares for us and never gives up on us; the One who is and always embraces us with loving mercy.
Thereafter he lived in complete harmony with what he understood as “God’s new reality”
emerging in and among us. His passion for that “new reality” shaped his destiny. With all his words and deeds he sought to assure his peers that the One he knew as “Abba” was inviting and empowering them to bear fruit, to grow, to become more fully alive and more fully human.
In today’s gospel text the parable about “the barren fig tree” is a thinly veiled story spoken by a frustrated Jesus! He is trying to get his peers – the people Israel to wake up to the deep mystery within them. They did not get it! Their “religious” acts and words were much like those of the Imam when he was in his adolescent years. They were hollow, empty and meaningless.
Most of his peers imaged that Gracious Mystery we name God as an avenger who goes about expressing his displeasure by handing out sicknesses, earthquakes or tsunamis as punishment for sin. It is the image that God punishes people through the agency of human cruelty or unfortunate accident. Jesus would have none of that! He was calling them to allow the powerful and transformative reality of God within to free them to be more fully alive and more fully human.
I don’t know why, but it seems difficult for many to grasp the significance of the gardener in this parable. The gardener says to the owner, “Sir, leave the tree alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” The Gracious Mystery we name God is the supportive, life-giving gardener. The implication of the parable is clear. The gardener – God – never gives up. Even the barren will bear fruit.
Whatever the Lenten practices in which you engage, don’t be satisfied with any – prayer, fasting, the giving of alms, or anything else that is hollow, meaningless or simply routine. Lent provides opportunity for you to open your “self” to some sort of radical, inner, personal experience that will awaken you to the Gracious Mystery, that transformative reality within you that we name God. Don’t be satisfied with anything less.