- “No, I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then Jesus told his parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener… “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting soil? The gardener replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” – Luke 13:1-9
- A wise person once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Another wise person said it a different way: “Insanity, in one sense, is doing the same thing over, and over again, and expecting a different result.” Even another wise person, Jesus, said it this way: “You reap what you sow.”
These similar (and familiar) proverbs call us to pay attention to life. They call us to be honest about ourselves when reflecting on why some things happen the way that they do. In particular, some of our struggles and difficulties—if we’re honest—are the outcomes of our stubbornness, untamed passions, willful ignorance, bad habits, or even procrastinations that push off to tomorrow (or next week, or next month) what we know we really need to start today.
That’s not to say that all of our hurts and sorrows are our own fault. That just wouldn’t be true! We live in a complex world, where actions are grounded in complicated intentions and emotions. As a result, life is often difficult because of how other peoples’ actions ripple out and hit us like waves, or torrents, that pull us out into stormy seas not of our making.
But if Lent is a time for reflection—a time of turning from paths that lead away from the Reign of God—then we need to be honest and admit that not every difficult situation is “someone else’s” fault. Sometimes the reason why bad things happen is not because God is punishing us; nor is it even that the universe put us in a bad place to teach us a lesson; but sometimes—as another wise, honest person once said: “we can be foolish and make bad choices.”
At this mid-point in Lent, we are called to look deep within ourselves and reflect on the difficult situations in our lives. How many of these are of our own making? Which ones came upon us without any fault of our own? Which ones did we make worse by throwing fuel on the fire? Which ones did we seek to heal and reconcile?
If we’re honest, we all have situations in which we could do better; in which we could bring grace and peace. The good news is that God is patient with us, in all of our difficult situations: especially those of our own making. Like a patient farmer who knows that a tree needs time, and tending, in order to grow and produce good fruit, so too God gives us that time and help. God comes alongside us, nurturing us (and pruning us when we need it) so that we might flourish and produce good fruit. And so the best news of all is that God doesn’t chop us down and throw us in a fire whenever we cause the problems of life—instead, God lovingly calls us to die to sin and rise to new life; the pattern of which we find upon the cross of Christ.
Reflection by: The Rev. Dr. Richard W. McCarty
Image: Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, Mozzolino, Ludovico (1480-1530)