3rd Sunday of Lent. February 27, 2016.
Ex 3:1-8,13-15; 1Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9
Limited time, unlimited graces
“Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.”
A penitent approached the confessional during a recent parish mission. Instead of beginning the confession with the usual, “Forgive me father for I have sinned,” the penitent frankly said, “Here I am father, the same sins as last time.” This penitent seemed to voice out the sentiments in our hearts as we approach the confessional to confess the same sins that we confessed a short time ago.
Maybe we have been confessing the same sins over and over again. Maybe we have even begun to doubt the effectiveness of the sacrament of confession in our spiritual life as a channel for forgiveness of sins and for the grace to struggle against sin. Maybe we have even giving up on the practice of regular confession itself. Moments like these are moments to recall that even our desire to confess our sins, our desire to amend our lives, our desire to change for the better is a clear sign that God is present and active in our lives despite the heaviness that weighs on us.
The conversation that Moses has with God in the First Reading shows that, though the Israelites are in bondage in Egypt facing oppression, they are still God’s people and God cares for them even in their bondage: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers.” God knows exactly what they are suffering, “So I know well what they are suffering.” Lastly, God will personally intervene and do something, “Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them to land flowing with milk and honey.” Their bondage does not mean that they are abandoned by God or condemned as sinners.
In the second Reading, St. Paul gives a commentary of the Exodus event to the Corinthians who were being tempted to be self-complacent. He reminds them of the deeper meaning of all that happened to their ancestors who were delivered from the Egyptian bondage. The liberated Israelites received abundant graces from God in the wilderness because God never ceases to labor for His people. After their liberation from Egypt, they had a cloud to guide them, a sea that swallowed their enemies, water from the Rock and manna from heaven. Though they had unlimited graces from God, they had limited time to respond to these graces. Some chose not to respond but to continuously “desire evil things,” to live lives that were not pleasing to God and to grumble with the result that they experienced death in the midst of God’s abundant blessings.
In Jesus Christ, God has fulfilled His promise to Moses to personally “come down and rescue” His people. In today’s Gospel, Jesus refuses to attribute the disaster of the Galileans slain by Pilate or the eighteen people killed by the tower of Siloam to their personal sins but warns His audience that they too have limited time to respond to the abundance of grace that He makes present to them, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” This abundance of divine grace for conversion must be matched with generous and prompt response on their part.
In the parable of the barren fig tree, we should see ourselves as the barren fig tree planted in an orchard and see Jesus as the gardener who hears the words of condemnation from the lips of the frustrated landowner, “So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” Jesus does two things. First, He prays for us and wins more time for us, “Sir, leave it for this year also.” Secondly, He makes a commitment to labor for us and provide us all the graces that we need in abundance, “I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.” But though He is committed to provide us with abundance of graces, the time for us to respond remains limited, “It may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Christ remains ever committed to us now as always. Because He “always lives to make intercession for us,”(Heb 7:25) and He is “at work now because His Father is always at work,”(Jn 5:17) we know that we will never lack the grace for ongoing conversion in our lives, the grace to show charity in action or the grace to be Jesus’ faithful witness in today’s world. Because of Jesus’ continuous labor for us, we have access to unlimited graces but the time for us to response is limited. It is His grace that touches us and moves us to even desire repentance and conversion from sin and a life of greater fidelity in loving and serving Him and others.
The question is this, “How do we make use of our time to respond to God’s grace at every single moment of our lives?”
Two ways that we can begin to obtain and respond to God’s grace is through a firm commitment to deep prayer and the fervent reception of the sacraments. Our sacramental life must go beyond the mere Sunday obligation but it must be seen as a way of responding to God’s love in daily life. Our prayer life too must move beyond praying just to avoid the misfortunes of life or to attain the blessings of life. But our prayer must exhibit the same listening attitude and readiness to obey God that Moses showed before the burning bush, “Here I am.” That was Moses’ moment of grace and he responded despite his weaknesses and poor understanding of the mystery involved in God’s call to him.
Prayer and regular sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, bestow on us the graces that Christ labored to merit for us on the Cross and facilitate our response to these graces each moment of daily life. Both prayer and sacraments too can sometime seem to bear no fruit in our lives. We do not appear to be advancing on the path to sanctity and the temptation is to give it all up. We must then recall that we desire to pray and encounter Him in the sacraments only because Jesus never ceases to labor for us. We too respond by our unceasing effort to pray and receive the sacraments and bear the fruits thereof.
In this Eucharist as in every Eucharist, Jesus fulfills His commitment to us, that commitment that He made to labor for our own spiritual fruitfulness as He bestows on us abundance of graces. He is present in the Eucharist so that “He can be at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”(Phil 2:13) We are still His beloved, He knows well what we are going through and He will surely act in ways that are sometimes imperceptible to us in making His abundant graces present to us and effective in our lives. Let us make use of these unlimited graces today and at this moment, laboring to respond without relenting because the time to respond is always limited.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!