If ever you have eaten a fresh fig, plump, fleshy and sweet, you will understand the vineyard owner’s longing, expectation and disappointment in today’s Gospel, as he keeps returning to his tree only to find it fruitless. The gardener’s plea may seem indulgent and misinformed. “Let it alone for one more year. Give me more time. I think I can help.” But this is the voice of Christ Jesus on our side, asking for time, time for mercy; but always, always waiting upon our request, our admission of our sinfulness to do His work. Seeing our potential for conversion, Jesus begs for more time.. If on the one hand God in Christ is always ready to heal, nurture and forgive; clearly in this morning’s Gospel, He is also reminding us with more urgency than ever that time may be running out. This urgent call to repent is Christ’s urgent desire to love and mercy us.
What to do? Only what Jesus the good gardener recommends this morning. Depend on him. Repent. Beg His mercy, His compassion. Only His sweet mercy, delectable as a plump new fig, can retrain our tendency toward sin. Tendency literally means inclination. We lean toward, stretch out toward sin, haplessly like vines programmed to cling to the nearest solid thing.
But always, always Jesus begs our cooperation, not to resist the painful trimming, the smelly fertilizing, the shock of his loosening the hard soil at our feet and the sudden drenching with clean, cool water. Our privileged task is the repetitive work of humility- continually returning to the back door of the church and standing there in the dim light, our heads lowered, begging with the publican, “Lord, be merciful to me a poor sinner.”
Such is the treasure, the challenge of our conversatio as monks, indeed as baptized members of Christ’s body, constantly to depend on God’s mercy. The Lord longs for our availability. He longs for access to our broken, guilt-ridden hearts, but He cannot get in unless we open up. Christ Jesus our Lord knows well that we have the potential to bring forth the sweet fruit of peace, justice and reconciliation. He asks only that we take a small step into the reality of our tendency, our truth, our sinfulness and invite Him in to do His work, over and over again.