Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 3:1-8.13-15; 1 Cor. 10:1-6.10-12; Gospel of Luke 13:1-9
Challenge – To Bear Fruit in your Faith

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at St Ignatius Church on 28 February 2016

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus began by mentioning about two disasters: the first was Pilate’s massacre of innocent lives and the second was an accidental collapse of the tower of Siloam that killed many people.  Using these two disasters as examples, Jesus warned the crowd that unless they repented, they will all perish like these people.

The first point to note is that Jesus is reminding us firmly that these mass killings were NOT God’s ways of punishing these people.  So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember that when bad things happen to us, like we suddenly discover that we are dying from cancer or have lost our job or our only child has met with an accident and the like, we should never blame God for them for God does not punish a sinner; God only desires to redeem a sinner. 

But, if our lives are filled with much suffering because of our lifestyle, like the excessive drinking of alcohol or exploitation of others or immoral living, then let us also remember to take responsibilities for the choices that we make in life and not blame God for our sufferings that are caused by our negative, unethical or immoral way of living.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are easily tempted to take the easy way out and blame God for the things that we don’t like, and the sufferings that we experience in life.  Many are also inclined to think self-centredly that even as we do wrong, if God loves us, He should not allow us to suffer.  The Truth is that God has given each of us the human freedom to love Him or to reject Him.  Thus, we should ask God for the grace to be mature enough to take ownership of the decisions that we make daily.  The Truth about God is clearly expressed in today’s Responsorial Psalm that says, “The Lord is Compassion and Love . . . He forgives our guilt, heals our ills, slow to anger, rich in mercy.”  

In short, as Jesus was warning the crowd of the way they were living, He is also challenging you and I, without exception, to reflect on the way we are choosing to live our lives daily.  In doing so, Jesus added the illustration of the fig tree that has not borne any fruits for three years, and risks being cut down if it does not bear fruit within the year. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us note that in the parable of the fig tree, Jesus is challenging you and I not only to repentance, but more importantly, to bear fruit in our lives.  This challenge of Jesus is particularly significant during the season of Lent for the renewal of our faith.  When we go to Confession, we find ourselves confessing the wrongs that we have done and then hearing the Confessor absolving us of our sins and freeing us of our guilt, in the name of Jesus Christ. 

However, the sins that we so often forget to confess are our “Sins of Omission.” These are the sins of the good that we fail to do.  When we do not confess such sins of Omission, over and over again, what is actually happening is that such sins remain un-confessed and un-forgiven; they remain part of our lifestyle, and way of Christian living that has a tendency of not living in the consciousness of the need to SEE Christ in others and to do the good that is needed; whether this be our need to forgive people who may have hurt us deeply, or love and care for them, or to treat people with respect and compassion, especially the poor and the needy.

And so, in today’s parable of the fig tree, Jesus is reminding us not only to repent of our sins, but to bear fruit in our faith though our lives.  We are each called to do the needed good, and produce the fruits of good living.  But, how can we live in such Christ-centred ways?

There is story of contractor in France who sent one of his supervisor to find out how his workers were feeling about their work at their building site.  So, the supervisor approached the first worker and asked, “What are you doing?”  The worker remarked strongly, “Why do you ask?  Are you blind?  Can’t you see that I am cutting these rock with these primitive tools?  Can’t you also see that I am sweating in the sun in this backbreaking work that is also boring me to death?” 

The supervisor quickly backed off and went to a second worker.  He then asked the second worker the same question, “What are you doing?”  This second worker replied, “Well, I am shaping these rocks into usable forms; they are then assembled according to the architect’s plans.  It is hard work and gets repetitive, but still I earn enough for my family’s needs . . . it is a job and life could be worse than this.  So, I am fine with the work.

Feeling somewhat encouraged, the supervisor then went to ask another worker.  “And what are you doing?”  The worker immediately replied, “I am building a cathedral for God!”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, one of the reasons why we often fail to see the good that needs to be done, and fall into the sin of “Omission” are perhaps the narrow perspectives and self-centred attitudes we have of life as with the first worker, and to a lesser degree the second worker.  All of them were building the same cathedral, but only one could see that he was contributing to the greater scheme of things and thus, doing God’s work.

Likewise, when we fast during the Lenten season, some of us could be like the first worker and see that “Lent” is a burdensome and restrictive season where we are NOT to eat and drink as we like; unlike the rest of the year.  Others, being like the second worker could see that “fasting” is not too difficult after all, if we are to compare with our Muslim brothers and sisters who fast from dawn to dusk, for the whole month of Ramadan.  Still, there are others; hopefully many of us here who like the third worker would see fasting, prayer and almsgiving during the season of Lent to be great opportunities of renewing our faith and relationship with Jesus.  If this is so, then the Lenten season would truly be a time of great joy and blessings instead of gloom and doom, and restrictions on our freedom of living our faith in Jesus.

Adolfo Perez Eaquivel, a Nobel Prize Winner in 1980 says, “The sin of omission is one of the worst things in the world.”  Dostoyevsky, the renowned Russian author says, “If we fail to accomplish acts of love, all our good intentions will remain mere daydreams, and our whole life will slip by like a shadow.”

I like to conclude with Cardinal John Henry Newman’s prayer.  He was one of the greatest spiritual thinker of the Anglican Church, who converted and became a renowned Catholic.  This prayer will help us develop wholesome perspectives and attitudes in our daily living; and we would be more conscious of not falling into the “sin of omission,” and more importantly, live a more fruitful Christ-centred life.

Dear Jesus,
Help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours. 
Shine through me,
and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with
may feel Your presence in my soul. 
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus!

Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as You shine;
so to shine /as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from You,
none of it will be mine;
it will be You shining on others through me. 
Let me thus praise You in the way You do love best,
by shining on those around me.

Let me preach You without preaching:
not by words but by my example,
by the catching force,/
the sympathetic influence /of what I do;
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You. 
Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

(cf: Happiness Manufacturers, by Hedwig Lewis, S.J.; Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; pub.; 2001; p.187.)

(cf. Adapted from: The Sower’s Seeds, by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R.; pub.; Paulist Press: New York; Mahwah; p.38-39)

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