Jesus makes this appeal to us, not with a severity that is an end in itself but precisely because he is concerned for our good.
Jesus told them a 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?’
The gardener 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.’” —Luke 13:6-9
The long “40-day” journey of Lent has often been used as an analogy for life’s spiritual journey. And for us Christians, this path has a specific destination and goal: the Cross and Easter’s empty tomb. These days of Lent are a time for us to recall that this “path of life” isn’t a meandering trail along which we leisurely stroll. And as we travel along, the Readings this Sunday remind us there should be an urgency and sense of purpose to our journey.
Blessed Ramon Lull, a 13th-century author and mystic, captured this sense of purpose in his writings. Raised as a courtier and knight, he was a brilliant man who took full advantage of his great wealth, enjoying a life of comfort and excess. Knowing what following Christ would mean, Ramon did not immediately welcome God’s call to deeper union and a life committed to the Faith.
But he continued to hear his “Beloved”—God—speaking to his heart, offering an insistent “Follow me.” And so, despite his fears and the prospect of significant changes in his life, Ramon gave himself over to what was being asked of him.
Later, in his Book of the Lover and the Beloved, he mused: “‘O you bird, who sings of love, ask my Beloved, who has created me to be His servant, why He torments me with love.’ The bird answered: ‘If love did not impose trials upon you, how then could you have proof that you loved Him?’”
Ramon Lull would eventually die a martyr, but only after having dedicated his life and ministry to promoting both dialogue with non-Christian religions and to working for reform within society and the Church.
Whether we are a newly initiated Christian or a life-long disciple, Jesus’ call of “Repent or perish” is one that we all need to hear again and again. The quality of discipleship demanded by Christ—and described in this Sunday’s Gospel—certainly requires a sense of purpose and direction, but it also demands a profound humility and acknowledgment that we are in need of redemption.
The novelist François Mauriac captured this truth beautifully in his novel, The Vipers’ Tangle: “Most men ape greatness or nobility. Though they do not know it, they conform to certain fixed types, literary or other. This the saints know, and they hate and despise themselves because they see themselves with unclouded eyes.”
As we continue our Lenten journey, figures like Moses from our First Reading, Blessed Ramon Lull, and our other spiritual ancestors remind us that obedience to God’s Will places demands upon us. But their stories also help us recall that God wants us and waits for us, calling us into his presence, to repent and to turn from sin: “These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
Lent is a season of discipleship and conversion. How are your Lenten “good works” helping you live out your commitment to follow Christ more faithfully?
How have you strayed or delayed on your spiritual path? What would it mean for you to journey with a greater sense of purpose and integrity?
What does the parable of the fig tree teach you about the mercy of God?
Words of Wisdom: “In Lent, each one of us is asked by God to mark a turning point in our life, thinking and living in accordance with the Gospel, correcting some aspect of our way of praying, acting, or working and of our relations with others. Jesus makes this appeal to us, not with a severity that is an end in itself but precisely because he is concerned for our good, our happiness and our salvation. On our part, we must respond to him with a sincere inner effort, asking him to make us understand which particular ways we should change.” —Pope Benedict XVI