A reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, 2022
Today I had the privilege of offering the reflection at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s Lenten Springtime for the Soul Prayer.
Reading: Luke 13:1-9
At that time some were present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
He said in reply: “Do you think that these Galileans were the greatest sinners in Galilee just because they suffered this? By no means! But I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you reform.
“Or take those eighteen who were killed by a falling tower in Siloam, Do you think they were more guilty than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem? Certainly not! But I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you begin to reform.”
Jesus spoke this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he came out looking for fruit on it but did not find any. He said to the vinedresser, ‘Look here! For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree and found none. Cut it down. Why should it clutter up the ground?’ In answer, the man said, ‘Sir, leave it another year while I hoe around it and manure it; then perhaps it will bear fruit. If not, it shall be cut down.”’
What an evocative reading. Even though Luke wrote a millennia ago, fresh images fill my mind at his words.
You can probably guess what images immediately jumped to my mind as we heard “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” Children and their caretakers sheltering in a theater in Mariupol, buried in the ruble as bombs mixed their blood into the cement of a fresh tomb.
All of Ukraine suffering under the pounding of a modern, brutal Pilate.
Or what about “those eighteen who were killed by a falling tower,” which draws from me a fresh flash of 9/11 and the World Trade towers falling.
More than a thousand years pass, but the crimes echo through the ages. And the notion that, somehow, God ordains these actions echos with them.
When my son Alex was born he spent ten days in a newborn ICU suffering from seizures. A priest stopped by and told us how good we must have been for God to have brought our child to the best children’s hospital in the world. Of course, the corollary of this was to wonder what awful trespass we had committed that our son was having seizures at all?
I’ll grant you, this priest left a bit to be desired in theology and bedside manner. But his tying God’s grace to our worthiness echos the crowds asking Jesus whether these Galileans were the greatest sinners in Galilee?
Jesus says no, the Galileans were no greater sinners just because they suffered, yet, unless we reform, we might suffer similar fates. How can we re-form ourselves? How can we return home, to God, to love.
When you hear Jesus describe the fig tree, do you see yourself in the tree or in the gardener?
We watered and tended the apple tree in our front yard for years, without a full harvest of apples. Last year we saw, with excitement, a hundred budding apples. But a quirk of our spring weather soon littered the ground with those hundred buds.
Are you the tree in the story, being called upon to re-form and bear fruit? To love your neighbor and do the work of justice? Or are you the gardener, with compassion for the laboring tree, nourishing it and tending it, with faith that the tree can bear fruit once more?
Is this an either/or question?
This Lent I have been reading Valerie Kaur’s book, See No Stranger. As its title suggests, Valerie’s book resonates with our mission of loving God and neighbor without distinction. I recommend See No Stranger to you, especially in its audio form, read in Valerie’s own voice of wonder and awe.
She describes love as “a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving.” And when we have reached our limit, she says, “wonder is the act that returns us to love.”
Valerie often looks at strangers or even the forlorn parts of herself and says: You are a part of me that I do not yet know. Then she asks in wonder: Who are you? And stills herself to listen for an answer. She tries to let that answer re-form her, change her. This is revolutionary love. The gardener looks at the tree with wonder: You are a part of me that I do not yet know. The gardener asks: Who are you? What gift do you yet bear?
Perhaps the Galilean is a part of yourself you do not yet know.
Can you let wonder open your heart and return you home to love?
Can you ask, “Who are you?”
Are you prepared to let the answer re-form you?