The Third Sunday of Lent [C]
Ex 3:1-8,13-15 + 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12 + Lk 13:1-9
March 24, 2019
Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.
Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, gardens, plants and trees of all sorts serve as symbols of growth—and decay—in the spiritual life. The very first story of the Bible takes place in a garden called Eden. In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells us a parable along a similar line.
Your spiritual life is the fig tree, and you are the gardener. Your spiritual life is planted in the Lord’s orchard. What we have to come to grips with is the fact that we are accountable to the Lord, just as in today’s parable the gardener is accountable to the orchard’s owner. We are accountable to God for bearing spiritual fruit during our lives on earth.
That’s why we’re here on this earth. If we believed, as some of our fellow Christians do, that the entire point of our relationship with Christ is to be “saved”, then we would be better off dying as soon as we’re baptized. But the whole truth—the fullness of truth—is that salvation comes to us only at the end of our life on this earth, if we have been faithful to tending our spiritual life. This tending and bearing fruit happens through the many ways that our spiritual life nourishes our daily life: the relationship between spouses, and the decisions they make together; relationships between parents and their children, and the many situations in which children are called to respect their parents and obey their decisions; relationships between employers and employees, among neighbors and friends, and so on.
This season of Lent is a natural time to imagine, in the context of our own spiritual lives, a conversation taking place like the one in Jesus’ parable. The Lord asks you each year during Lent to offer an account of your spiritual life. You in reply should be willing to make the gardener’s words your own: “‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it….’”
There are two things that the gardener promises to do here: cultivate, and fertilize. The cultivation of our spiritual life means to use every tool at our disposal to build up the graces on which God has founded our lives, as well as the graces that He continues to bestow upon us every new day of our life.
There are many ways to fertilize our spiritual life, but during Lent especially, one of them is to acknowledge that (if you’ll pardon the expression) even the manure in our lives can contribute to long-term spiritual growth. Or to be a little more theological about it: we need to acknowledge that God can create grace in our lives even in the very midst of suffering; or to put it in yet another way, we need to recognize that God can create good out of evil. If you find it hard to acknowledge this, pray an entire rosary without taking your eyes off the crucifix.
Our First and Second Readings today encourage us to consider Jesus’ parable in the light of the Exodus of Moses and the Israelites. Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, is very sober. He puts it plainly: even though Moses liberated all the Israelites from their slavery to the Egyptian Pharaoh, and even though all the Israelites “ate the same spiritual food, and… drank the same spiritual drink,” “God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.”
“These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.” So “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” The sin of presumption is one of the more dangerous. We know this from our other relationships, but we often fail to recognize the presumption in our spiritual life. What happens to married love when a husband takes his wife’s love for granted, or vice versa?
What the sin of presumption does to married love, it does all the more to our love for God. In this season of Lent, Our Lord Jesus calls us to walk more closely to Him as He travels to Calvary, and to recognize how deep His love for us must be for Him to accept death on the Cross when He has no reason to do so, save love. That is the love that God has planted within you, and asks you to tend and cultivate.