Farmers are very practical people. They have to be; their survival depends upon the harvest. Jesus uses the parable of the farmer and the fruitless fig tree to teach us the lesson of our need to repent. Repent, what’s it mean? In a religious sense repent means we regret the wrongs we’ve done and we’re determined with God’s grace to change the ways we live our lives. Repent means ridding ourselves of all those things that hold us back from living the new commandment; ’love one another as I have loved you.’ As we all know this commandment is not an easy one to live.
Going back to the parable; the orchard owner wants a sadly unproductive fig tree chopped down. His gardener wants to leave it one more year and see if, with some tending, it will bear fruit. Give it one more chance. Those who cultivated figs usually expected a tree to bear fruit in three years time, if not it was cut down and another was planted in its place. In this parable Jesus is not the owner of the orchard but the gardener. He’s asking for mercy for this unproductive fig tree. “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.”
The gardener is asking mercy for the disobedient fig tree. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus is doing when he warns us we will perish if we don’t repent? Jesus, through his teaching and his actions was always inviting people to return to his Father. So often Jesus echoed the call of the ancient prophets; mend your ways and come back to God.
The call of Lent is “repent.” Repent does not mean to grovel or beg, it does mean that we face the wrongs we’ve done, admit we are not living our lives as we were meant to and ask for God’s forgiveness and grace to live better lives. Like the murderous and adulterous but repented King David we say, “my sin is always before me, against you alone have I sinned, what is evil in your sight I have done, create in me a clean heart, put a steadfast spirit within me.”
I’ve heard these words used as an act of contrition; for the sins I know, for the sins I do not know and for the sins that do not bother me, forgive me.
In years past we would go to confession with what we jokingly called our shopping list. We would rattle off our thoughts or actions and were careful to tell the number of times we did these things. It was all so rote, even superficial and we came to devalue the sacrament of reconciliation and to neglect its celebration. How often did we ever face the sins that did not bother us; attitudes and mind sets that put a flavor in our lives that was distasteful to God. The truth of the matter is our sins are not so much actions but attitudes, ways of thinking and relating to others that are not of Christ.
These mindsets and attitudes can take on many forms. They can manifest themselves in such things as indifference and apathy to God and the things of God. We come to Sunday Mass at our convenience, celebrate the sacraments at our convenience and neglect prayer except in time of need. We can live our lives as if God did not exist.
Another mindset or attitude might be that of self-centeredness, everything evolves around us. When asked for help or involvement in some worthwhile project our constant response is ‘it’s not convenient right now’ in other words, ‘I can’t be bothered, you and your needs are intruding into my space, my time.’ Our primary concern is ourselves, an attitude so far removed from that of Christ,’ who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
Maybe self indulgence is the sin that does not bother us. We indulge ourselves in food or drink or get ourselves selfishly involved in relationships that are exploitive or manipulative – we use other people for our own pleasure really not considering the harm or hurt we might cause to others. Our pleasure, our gratification comes first. We look at everything with the question,’ what’s in it for me?’
Another sin that does not bother us could be a mind set that expresses itself in our intolerance to men, women and children of other races, cultures, faiths, lifestyles or social standing. We imagine such people as less than ourselves. Because they are different we blind ourselves to goodness that is in them and the wonder that they are our brothers and sisters, they are worthy of our respect, love and concern, for they too are sons and daughters of God and as Christ tells us,’whatever you do to one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do to me.’
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can ask ourselves are we that unproductive fig tree that Jesus the gardener wants so badly to tend and care for one more time? Are we willing to honestly look at ourselves and face those things in our lives that keep us from bearing fruit, are we willing to face the sins we know, the sins we do not know and especially the sins that do not bother us?