My image of God!
We have probably all heard the story of a little girl called Monica; she’s aspiring to become a great artist. One day, Monica spread out all her crayons and bent over a large piece of paper. For a long time, she worked and concentrated as hard as she could. When her older brother came by and asked what she was doing, she replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The brother smiled and said, “Nobody knows what God looks like!” Monica simply replied, “They will when I’m done!” While we may have never tried to draw God’s picture, we all have implicit images of God, some of which we have expressed, some are yet to be brought to consciousness as they are in our subconscious mind.
What is your understanding of who God is especially in connection to sin, suffering, punishment, tragedies and misfortunes? Jesus in today’s Gospel establishes the fact that there are no connections between sin and the misfortunes or tragedies that may happen to us, whether their cause is human as in the case of Pilate who mingled the Galileans blood with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1) or accidental in which the tower of Siloam fell and killed people (Luke 13:4). By this statement Jesus goes against a very common belief of his time and perhaps ours also according to which diseases, misfortunes and poverty are the consequences of sins committed by people in those situations.
Evil is prevalent in our world, but God is still in charge of the universe. The psalmist says He neither sleeps nor slumbers. It is true that some people suffer as a result of their mistakes and some have suffering inflicted upon them by other people, yet, God loves all his children. He doesn’t always treat us according to our sins. When we experience tragedies, it is not God punishing us. Friends in Christ, Jesus says “No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” because sin carries its own inbuilt punishment and there is no significant relationship between God and the punishment for sin. We must not equate sin and tragedy with divine punishment. When others suffer, it is not because they are worse sinners. In all of these experiences, God teaches us that it is by his grace that we are not destroyed. And we must not take his mercy for granted.
People of God, the greatest danger is not the physical sufferings we go through such as the killing of the Galileans by Pilate or the collapse of the tower of Siloam which claimed the lives of 18 people. The greatest tragedy is our unwillingness to repent, to hear through the events around us the voice of God summoning us to come back to him. Our experience and knowledge of God’s ever nearness and constancy should move us to a radical transformation of our way of life. Like Moses, God calls us to remove our shoes. His presence is holy and so detests all kinds of filthy shoes. Some of us are still wearing shoes of wickedness, selfishness, idolatry, anger, envy, immorality, fornication and adultery and so forth. We need to take them off. We need to repent. Unless we repent we will perish. Note, God is not an avenging God, ready to attack anyone who violates the law. He is a compassionate God who seeks sinners. He says, “As I live … I do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked but in the conversion of the wicked who changes his ways and saves his life. Repent, turn back from your evil ways. Why die, House of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).
The parable of the fig tree reveals how sinners are written off and rarely given the opportunity to change. The vineyard owner was interested in the fruits of the fig and was ready for it to be chopped down and thrown away. But the vinedresser that is Jesus is on the side of sinners and believes that sinners can do something for a change and produce fruits. Moses in the first reading is a good example of God’s principle of second chance. In Exodus 2:11ff Moses had killed and hid an Egyptian but later escaped for his safety as there were indications for his arrest. But God entrusts Moses with the liberation of his people. This parable calls us to think and discover ourselves as God’s project in His vineyard. If I apply this parable to myself, what conclusion do I draw?
On the other hand, the parable about the fig tree speaks of imminent judgment. Recall that John the Baptist in Luke 3:9 says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The parable reinforces ideas from the first half of this passage. A cultivated yet unproductive tree may continue to live even without bearing fruit, only because it has been granted additional time to do what it is supposed to do. Unless it begins to bear fruit, that is the fruit of repentance, the result will be its destruction.
The readings invite us to begin to widen our image of God and not to be carried away by a narrow and oppressive view of sin and it consequences. For instance, we need to begin to have a wider understanding of repentance. Repentance is not all about turning away from sin to virtue but it is so much about a “new way of looking at who God is, at life, at reality.” So, there is a universal call for repentance because, Jesus emphasizes the suddenness with which death comes. Just as Pilate’s and the tower’s victims did not enjoy the luxury of choosing the time of their death, likewise the unrepentant will suddenly find they have delayed too long and lost themselves.
Beloved in Christ, Jesus calls us to repentance today. This type of repentance is not just a one-time change of heart, but an ongoing daily transformation of our lives. As the fig tree is given one last season to produce fruit before it is cut down, so too Jesus is giving us one final opportunity to bear good fruits as evidence of our repentance (Lk 3:8). Beloved, this Lenten season should be for us like the season of pardon given to the fig tree, a grace period in which we let “the gardener”, Jesus, to cultivate our hearts, uprooting what obstructs the divine life in us, and strengthening us to bear fruits that will last into eternity.