Third Sunday of Lent, March 7
Luke 13: 1-9
The Gospel chosen to be read on this Third Sunday of Lent closes with the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree. This parable is about a man who owned a fig tree and when “he came in search of fruit on it but found none,” he told his gardener to cut it down. The gardener said to him, “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.” The words of the gardener here show the continuing patience of God and his willingness to grant us all a second chance – and a third chance, fourth chance, ad infinitum.
Everyone, including God, seems to have expectations of one sort or another. Our parents had expectations for each of us just as we all have expectations not only for other people but for things as well. The owner of the fig tree in the parable had expectations for his tree. When we buy a new car, we expect it to have new tires and good brakes. God expects us to hear his word and do it – the meaning of the word obedience. When expectations fail, what do we do? How do we react when a child comes home with an F on his/her report card? Are we patient, kind, loving, inviting him/her to try again and do better the second time around? Or do we jump up and down, judge them with nasty words, and lay down the proverbial law?
We see in our parable in today’s Gospel that God is patient with us when we don’t fulfill his expectations to hear and do his commandments. He gives us another chance—over and over and over again. How many times we fail to accept his grace as he expects, and he presents it to us again and again.
We see this same kind of forgiving and patient God in many places in the Scriptures. How patient and forgiving God was with the Israelites as he guided them through the desert to the land of milk and honey despite the many times they reverted to their old ways and disobeyed his commands. God is the same way in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and in the story of the woman caught in adultery. His kindness and forgiveness know no bounds! I hope and pray today that this merciful patience of God pushes us to do better in following in his ways and not to take advantage of his patience that I know will be there if I fail.
Lord, I believe I know your expectations for me. Help me to achieve them, at least by the second or third time around.
Monday of the Third Week of Lent, March 8
Luke 4: 24-30
Jesus now returns to Nazareth, his home town. The people there had been hearing about the marvelous things he was doing elsewhere and expected great things from him for themselves, the hometown crowd. But Jesus shows them no special treatment.
We see here again that Jesus’ love and mercy are unconditional and universal. He loves us all equally and no one has a special claim or entitlement to his mercy. There is no “in” group with Jesus that receives preferential treatment. God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. God cares for us no matter what. Absolutely amazing, isn’t it!?
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent, March 9
Mt. 18: 21-35
We spoke the other day of God’s expectations for us and one of them certainly is that God expects us to be a forgiving people. Time and time again in the Scriptures he shows his forgiveness for all of us and he expects us to forgive those who harm us, too.
I find that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when someone harms or offends me, they didn’t do it intentionally. They didn’t set out to harm me on purpose; it just happened in the course of events. People are good. I have remarked many time before that there are no bad people. There are ignorant people, to be sure, and I am at the top of that list. We are all ignorant. And I would imagine we all have heard that old song: You always hurt the one you love. I hurt others without really intending to do it and they do the same thing to me. Both sides expect forgiveness. Let’s try and make resentments in our lives a thing of the past.
Lord, help me during this season of Lent to forgive all the people I presently resent. Thank you.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent, March 10
Mt. 5: 17-19
Expectations abound in this week’s Gospels. Today’s Gospel shows us that God expects us all to keep his commandments. God’s commandments are not simple suggestions or recommendations that we may keep or ignore depending upon how we feel at the time. They are commands and he expects us to hear them and do them.
So often we look on the commandments of God in a negative way. He gave me a free will and now he takes it away. On the contrary, he gave me a free will to choose that which is beneficial to me and that includes his commandments. The commandments are God’s gifts to us, not penalties or burdens. The observance of his commandments brings freedom; it doesn’t destroy it. God’s commandments are the way to our fulfillment, completeness, wholeness and holiness. They are given to us by holiness himself. Wisdom tells us to follow all of them closely.
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent, March 11
Jeremiah 7: 23-28
I noticed yet another expectation that God has for us as I glanced at the first reading for today’s Liturgy from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. There we read: “Thus says the Lord: This is what I command my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.” Once again, God expects us to hear what he says, to listen to him, and to do what we hear him say.
We have already commented a number of times in the past on this particular expectation of God. We don’t usually intend to let what God tells us go in one ear and out the other, but that’s the way it goes many times. We are a busy people and our minds are busy places. They are constantly jumping here, there and everywhere, sometimes all at once. It is a reality that we are a distracted people. We think and often worry about our work, our families, our studies, our friends, whatever. Even when I pray, I find myself thinking of all kinds of things that need to be done.
Let’s all try and make it a point during Lent to ask the Lord for extra help in focusing on him and his commands.
Friday of the Third Week of Lent, March 12
Mark 12: 28-34
In today’s Gospel from St. Mark a scribe came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” And Jesus replied with the Great Commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer of Jesus is the whole thing in a nutshell. If we fulfill this commandment, there is nothing more.
And talk about listening, as we were in yesterday’s homily! This is exactly how we love God in the way he wants to be loved: “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.” We love him in this way by loving him with all we have and with all we are. We love him by listening to him with the greatest attention possible and then carrying out what we have heard.
Lord, I don’t really know if I ever love you in this fashion. Please help me come closer and closer to doing it.
Saturday of the Third Week in Lent, March 13
Luke 18: 9-14
We end this week of homilies that encompassed God’s expectations of us with yet one more expectation: that we humble ourselves in order to be exalted.
Humility and its good friend honesty are basic virtues in any relationship and in anything we do. I have to be who and what I am with no show, no pretense, no blowing things out of proportion, no pride carried to the extreme. I have to return to God what he made me to be. His gifts and talents, all that I am or might be, are gifts from God. I did not earn them, I do not deserve them. They are pure gift. My part in all of this is to accept these things thankfully from God and use them to the best of my ability for serving others. When I do this, and only when I do this, am I being humble and honest. Only then can I come close to being the virtuous person God expects me to be.
Lord, help it be so for all of us.