Gospel Lectio Divina for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
“Do you think they were greater sinners?”
In Jesus’ time it was popular to believe that if something bad happened to you, it was because God was punishing you according to your sins. So if someone became sick, or became seriously injured, or died, many people believed God was simply giving that person their just punishment for their sins. That belief is not popular today, but in a way we kind of think the opposite is true. If someone becomes sick or injured, we often view them as more innocent than someone who is not sick or injured. In reality though, a person dying in a hospital is no more deserving of God’s mercy than a healthy person working at a desk, because neither deserve his mercy. Paradoxically, it is right to show them both mercy–if they repent. In this Gospel passage, Jesus is showing us how inaccurate we often are when it comes to our concept of justice. God is the one who administers justice. He is the final judge. We will all receive a just judgment from him if we do repent and accept his mercy.
“if you do not repent, you will perish”
Jesus conveys the fate we all share. Whether other people consider us sinners or not, whether we die in a disaster or not, we all share the same mortal destiny because of our fallen nature. Only through repentance can we be saved. Lent is a time to focus on this reality, but it’s always true. Let’s not forget our own mortality once Lent ends. We receive special graces from the Church by praying, fasting, and giving alms together as a Church, but the need to lead holy lives is always important. We are children of God, but we are also stained by concupiscence. Jesus is giving us such a poignant portent because he loves us. Like a fireman telling us to get out of a building that is burning, he is warning us of the imminent danger surrounding our souls, and showing us the only way out. It’s scary. The leap of faith is far, but it beats the alternative.
“Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.”
Sometimes I picture Our Mother Mary playing the role of the gardener, pleading to her son, ‘Just give him more time. Show him mercy instead of justice.” How many years have passed where I have not fulfilled my promise to bear fruit? Definitely more than three. And how many times has Jesus given me another chance? I can’t even count the times at this point in my life. But still he hasn’t given up on me, or you, or anyone. He is hope. So we pray to Mary, that she continues to plead to her son to give us more time. Little victories here and there do count as something, so let’s not give up entirely when we fall. I believe Jesus just wants to see us making an ongoing effort. He understands human frailty, how the spirit is willing but the body is weak. We have this season of Lent to go through the fire once again, to be purged of our imperfections, and to come out the other side more like Jesus. Mother Mary, pray for us who have recourse to you.
“If not you can cut it down.”
Mary, all the saints, and angels pray to God that he will show us mercy, but in the end his justice must prevail. That is why the Church leaves us with these somber words this week. If we were not listening to the rest of the parable, we may think the ending is pretty harsh. But we are living in the age of God’s mercy. We are living at the time when God is giving us extra chances. Let’s not squander that. Justice must prevail because it is a law of nature. God’s mercy is supernatural, and it is sustained by his love for us. But if we do not choose him, there is no other end for us except that which justice demands. It is not natural for us to receive eternal life in heaven with God. It is supernatural. God is calling us to something higher than our nature.
I am at your mercy. Please, be merciful, I beg you. I detest all the sins I have committed because of their just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. Spare me from the punishment I deserve. With your grace, help me to sin no more, and to live a holy life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
God wants to forgive, but we have to ask for forgiveness in order for him to give it. Often we do not forgive ourselves, because–even though we have true remorse for our sins–we do not believe God can forgive us, so we do not listen for him to say back to us the words, “I forgive you.” This is why the sacrament of confession is so important. It is helpful to speak our sins out loud to another person, because by doing so we take true ownership of them–like a criminal confessing a crime. In a similar way, it is important to listen to the priest say the words, “Your sins are forgiven”, because that makes the reconciliation with God more real. Going to confession during Lent–or any day–is great, but this week would be an especially good time to go because it would be an active way to listen and respond to Christ’s calling in this Sunday’s Gospel to repent.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.