Saturday, March 10, 2007

Burning Bush and Fruitful Tree

(3rd Sunday of Lent, C) These days we can’t help but be aware of all of the severe weather in the world, of all the earthquakes and natural disasters, of El Niño and global warming. And once in a while you hear someone saying that all of the suffering of these misfortunes is God’s punishment on the world. There are folks here in the United States who want us to believe that recent hurricanes and tornadoes are a punishment from God for our sins, for things like abortion and so-called gay marriage. But do you really think that a loving God would punish schoolchildren in Georgia or the poor folks in New Orleans for these sins?
In our Gospel today Jesus comes right out against this kind of thinking, and turns it around on the hearer. As we heard, “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!”
Do you think the parents who lost their children in the tornado in Georgia were greater sinners than we are? How about the folks who lost their homes and their lives in hurricane Katrina? Were they greater sinners than you and me? Certainly not. Jesus teaches us today that these misfortunes should not lead us to reflect on other people’s sins, but on the state of our own souls, and on our own need for repentance.
This is what Lent is about, is it not? It’s a time to get back to basics, to turn ourselves back to God and to let go of what gets in the way between us and God. The Scriptures offer us so many models of how we can do this, but we have one of the greatest in our first reading today: Moses approaching God in the burning bush.
And what does God say when Moses begins to come near? “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” What’s that all about? Sandals are great, but they are made of leather, and leather is dead skin. And nothing having anything to do with death can come near to the living God. And it’s the same with us: in order to approach God, or, better, to allow God to approach us, we have to take off everything that has do with death—that is, the sins by which we bring suffering and difficulty into the world.
This is our choice in life: to approach the Lord or to remain in the selfishness of sin. Moses was amazed at the bush that was on fire, but was not consumed. The fire of God, the Holy Spirit, does not consume, does not destroy. But when we burn with the grumpiness and anxiety of sin—that’s the fire that consumes us. The burning of sin hurts and consumes us, leaving us burnt and dulled in our feeling and perception. But the fire of God does not consume, but rather affirms us, makes us more into the people we are meant to be. And when we see someone truly on fire with the love of God, their true humanity shining through so brilliantly, we are like Moses who was amazed to see the bush burning without being consumed.
So that’s our choice: to burn and be consumed in sin, or to glow safely in the fire of the love of God.
And this choice has some urgency to it, as Jesus teaches us today in the parable of the fig tree. The owner of the vineyard, who is God, of course, comes to look for his figs. Finding none, he tells the gardener to cut down the tree. The gardener promises that, although the tree has been fruitless up to now, he will take better care of it, and it will bear fruit in the following year.
When I was staying at our novitiate in Honduras, the novice master gave each of the novice friars a little patch of ground to cultivate. He said to them, “I need to see that you can care for a living thing. And I can’t see your soul, but I can see this little garden.” How beautiful, right?
This is one way we can hear Jesus in his parable today. We are the gardeners, each of us taking care of the fig tree of our own soul. God is owner of the vineyard and comes to see if our hearts have borne any good fruit, if they have blossomed with love and gentleness and faith.
But God is no absentee landlord! God is right there working in the garden with us. God provides everything we need to grow and flourish. The warmth of God’s love is like the sun that strengthens. Like the Israelites in the desert we receive the life-giving water that flows from the rock—and as Paul says, the rock was Christ!
In this Eucharist, blood and water flow over us from the side of Christ to nourish and fertilize the little garden of our souls. The bread of life gives us the strength to continue to prune and cultivate ourselves, so that, when we finally come face to face with God, we may be found flourishing with all the fruits of love and faith.
Each week we come closer to the great feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Let us receive today the bread of life and the life-giving water from the Rock, and allow God to cultivate our hearts, so that, when we come to renewal of our baptism this Easter, we are found with loving and peaceful hearts, blossoming out with joy.

1 comment:

Charles of New Haven said...

Special thanks to those who contacted me about my bad memory for geography!