Sunday, March 24, 2019

Turning Back to Grace

A tree full of figs, branches heavy with pomegranates, an abundance of corn and new wine - all this fruitfulness was surely a sign of God’s favor. And so, the logic was, it’s opposite - barrenness - clearly indicated God’s disfavor. And so, the frustrated orchard owner not finding any ripe figs says, “Dig up the fruitless tree. It’s useless.” Jesus the Gardener, our Advocate with the Father, says, “Wait. Give me some time; let me give it a bit of extra care.” Jesus  sees opportunity for his graced intervention.

And if the fig tree was by tradition Israel itself, it is as well all of us and each of us - stuck and sinful and seemingly unfruitful. And when the Gardener asks for just a single year to do his work, Jesus is pointing to the urgency of repentance and a change of heart. “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” As if to say, there is still time, but there’s no time to lose.* Jesus never gives up on us. He is the God of second chances, he understands. But he waits, awaits our turning back to his grace.

As God will tell Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people. I have heard their cry; and I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” This is not a God of whim and caprice who distractedly allows towers to fall on sinful people but a God of mercy who in Christ Jesus has come down to join us in the rubble of our sinfulness, here amidst the debris of our mistakes and failures. 

After the devastating earthquake in Turkey in 1988, a mother and her infant son were trapped for days in the rubble of their apartment building. The trauma, the days of tension and near airlessness caused her breastmilk to dry up. Frantic as her baby grew more and more listless and whimpered faintly, a thought came to her. She pierced her finger, pressed it and put it in the child’s mouth. The baby nursed contentedly on her bleeding fingertip. Not long after she saw light peeping through the debris, she shouted, and rescuers discovered her and the baby. Both survived.

How like Our Lord Jesus was this nursing mother, nurturing us with his own blood, God’s own blood, a torrent of compassion from his wounded heart, from his hands and feet. So, he shows us in his own body that loving to the end is the way to life and fruitfulness and true repentance. My sisters and brothers, we are Jesus’ wounded body. We are invited to let our hearts to be stretched and torn open in love; it may often feel that we like him are dying in the process. But it’s worth it.
 Photograph by Brother Brian. *  Insight from Gerhard Lohfink.