|Burning Bush by Jared Knight, used with permission|
Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent
Scriptures for today's Mass
Audio for homily
In Jesus’ day, raising a fig tree took some time.
After planting a fig tree,
you’d have to wait three years before it produced any fruit.
And once it did, Jewish dietary law in the book of Leviticus
forbade eating the fruit for another three years.
In the seventh year, finally, the figs on the tree could be harvested
but only to be brought to the temple
as a thanksgiving offering to God.
Only in the eighth year could the figs be harvested and eaten or sold.
Now, the orchard owner in the gospel story
has been looking for figs to harvest for three years
and he’s good and ready to chop it down.
But the gardener, the gardener is patient,
asking for just one more year
to nurture this fig tree to fruitfulness.
• I wonder… has anyone been as patient with you
as was this gardener with the barren fig tree?
Through years of your struggling and failing,
has someone stood by you,
urging you to try, and try again?
• I wonder… have you and I ever been as patient with someone else
(a child, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a co-worker, a friend…)
Have we been as patient with others as the gardener with the fig tree?
When any of us experiences the patience Jesus counsels here,
then we experience what it is to be truly loved…
And when any of us patiently cares for another, as Jesus counsels here,
then we know what it is to truly love someone…
The patience for which this parable calls
can make great demands on us:
patience in the face of carelessness, forgetfulness and hurt;
patience in the face of rejection and infidelity;
patience in the face of fruitlessness;
patience in the face of failure;
patience in the face of disappointment, distress and discouragement.
This the patience of love.
It’s the patience parents often have with their children…
It’s the patience promised in wedding vows…
It’s the patience of a teacher with a student…
It’s the patience of caring
for sick or dying family members and friends...
It’s the patience of a compassionate and forgiving friend…
It’s the patience of teammates working towards the same goal…
It’s the patience of co-workers understanding each others' stress…
It’s the patience that keeps good friends, true friends…
And it’s the patience the Lord has with each of us when we fail
and when we ignore, when we squander, when we take for granted
the love he patiently suffered for us on the Cross…
Jesus is the patient gardener in the parable
and he patiently cultivates his grace in your life and in mine,
-- especially, when we’re not bearing fruit.
A problem is that many of us may be oblivious to God’s patience
because we never acknowledge the things in our lives that beg for it.
That’s why, at the beginning of today’s gospel,
Jesus calls us to repent.
He calls us to examine our lives,
to see if we have yielded the fruit he looks for
and patiently waits for us to produce.
How long will he be patient with us?
Look at the burning bush in the first reading!
the Lord's patience with us burns like a heart afire --
but it’s never consumed, never exhausted: it never gives up on us.
The Lord’s loving heart burns bright for us always,
warming us with his light, his mercy, his pardon.
The flame of his patient love for us never goes out, it never dies.
Lent is a season, perhaps THE season
for us to remember how patient God is with us –
and a season for us to remember why and how much
we stand in need of God’s merciful and patient love and pardon.
When Moses came near the burning bush the Lord told him
to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground.
Lent is a time to look for and to find a patch of holy ground,
a place, a time to stand before God, to meet him in his mercy,
and to let the fire of his love give us light to see our lives as they are:
not as we wish they were or pretend they are – but as they are
and to acknowledge, to confess, our need for God’s mercy.
Sunday after Sunday, Lent after Lent, year after year,
in spite of our forgetfulness, our faults and our failure to bear fruit,
the Lord sets this table for us
where he patiently cultivates his grace in our hearts
through the Eucharist, the gift of the Cross and the altar.
May this be the Lent, Lent 2016,
when we find the holy ground of God’s presence,
confess our need for his mercy,
and yield the fruit of his grace in our lives.
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