Third Sunday of Lent
Our Gospel today begins with the anxiety people were experiencing over a persecution by Pilate and a natural disaster that took the lives of eighteen people. God’s role in the face of disaster and human suffering, or theodicy, is a perennial problem that people throughout the centuries have reflected on.
Jesus does not directly answer the concerns of the people, but rather presents them with an image of God operating in their lives. God is like a gardener who expends time, energy and resources on nurturing a fig tree. This requires an investment because it takes three years for a fig tree to actually bear fruit. This particular tree has had the required three years to mature but no fruit appears. The economical gardener would cut his losses and not expend any more resources. “Why should it exhaust the soil?” But God does not lose confidence and gives the tree another chance in spite of its failure to bear fruit. God is the persistent gardener who does not lose heart even in the face of failure.
This image of God is reinforced in the reading from the book of Exodus. God is faithful in his concern and care for his people Israel. Because they are enduring slavery in Egypt, God commissions Moses to lead them out to the Promised Land. And we know that even when they lost heart and rebelled in the forty year wandering through the desert, God forgave them, took them back, and was faithful to his promises.
During Lent, as we face the failures and shortcomings of our lives, what is our image of God? Is God the judge who is quick to condemn? Or is God the faithful gardener who tends his plants with great care? Jesus tells the people in the Gospel that they should be about conversion and turning toward God. Those words encourage us to press on with our Lenten observance as well.
We Minnesotans live in anticipation of the tulips and daffodils that will soon be showing their heads in our gardens. In our lives may we have the patience of the divine gardener so that our spiritual life will also bloom with great abandon this year.
Fr. Larry Snyder
Vice President for Mission