On 30th September 2019 Cardinal Vincent Nichols officially launched the Year of the Word under the title, ‘The God Who Speaks’. His prayer is that we may all be enriched and transformed by the living Word of God. Perhaps we may do no more than read the Scripture passages for each Sunday. But maybe we could spend more time with them, allowing God’s word to speak to us and transform us.
In today’s gospel reading, God speaks to us about repentance which is much more than just being sorry for the past. The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia; this might be best translated as “turn around your mind” or change. It involves a deep and radical change in one’s thinking and behaviour. But most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to, which usually means some form of suffering or some disturbance that upsets our habitual path. Those are our experiences of inner wilderness where we face the truth of who we are and what our life is like. Sometimes we go to the wilderness, other times it comes to us. Either way it is hard work which most of us would rather avoid. There is no quick fix. There is no way out of or around the wilderness. The only way is through the wilderness. It’s the place where our lives can be transformed, the place we are most open to changing and being changed. For every wilderness there comes the word of God.
In the wilderness of exile the word of God speaks of coming home: ‘Make your home in me as I make mine in you.’
In the wilderness of doubting our self-worth the word of God speaks of our divine origin: ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness.’
In the wilderness of the restlessness of anxiety the word of God speaks of stillness: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
In the wilderness of apparent absence of God the word of God speaks words of presence: ‘Truly Yahweh is in this place and I never knew it.’
Hidden within every wilderness is the beauty of divine presence.
‘If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.’ (Goethe). Jesus sees the potential in every person he meets. Today’s gospel shows us how in his presence people feel capable of more. He guides them to the realisation that their growth is far from finished. Mercy gives the sinner a future when there seems to be no future. He recognises the wrong done but does not demand a penalty for it. This gospel passage models mercy at its very best. Mercy looks at others with compassion, it understands, it does not condemn, it sets free, it enables, it gives life. This ideal continues to inspire many, but for a variety of reasons Jesus’ example of tenderness and mercy proves difficult to imitate. Some of the hindrances to that imitation need to be named if we are to overcome them.
One obstacle is fear. The scribes and Pharisees are very uncomfortable with moral failure. According to their standards of justice the sinner must pay the price for what he/she has done. If the law is not kept and failure isn’t punished then the danger is that chaos will take over and chaos is very scary. In their eyes the observance of the law makes for order and that keeps chaos at bay. For Jesus too the law gives direction to life, but he looks to its deeper significance and to the need to understand each individual who seeks to follow its guidance.
Another obstacle is the self-centredness that wants more, whether it is more freedom, more control, more material goods or more power. This attitude finds tolerance and forgiveness very demanding. It is becoming increasingly evident that the more individual our views and beliefs become, the higher the levels of intolerance.
A story that begins with deathly accusation ends with divine mercy. Where the community’s condemnation would have led the adulterous woman to death, Jesus’ mercy leads her to new life. A story that begins with exposing the sin of an individual ends with exposing the sinfulness of all. Where the community begins with awareness of the woman’s sinfulness, this encounter with Jesus makes them aware of their own sinfulness. A story that begins with human testing of the divine ends with divine invitation to repent. Jesus reveals a new order in which all are called to repentance and the experience of divine mercy. Jesus’ desire for us is not death but new life.
Sources: galwaydiocese.ie/reflection; Living Liturgy
Lent is intended to be a time of new life, a new springtime. The story of the fig tree is a reminder of the areas where there is zero growth in our lives. That stagnation could be the consequence our fears, prejudices, judgements and condemnations, the need for control, the victimisation of others and our impoverishment of God. Without even being noticed, buried anger can drain away the energy that could foster growth and peace.
God does not cut down life. God gives, sustains, and
grows life. He is a compassionate and caring gardener who seeks to nourish
life, who is willing to get down on his hands and knees, to dig around in the
dirt of our life, to water, even spread a little manure, and then trust that fruit
will grow. This gardener sees possibilities for life that we often cannot see
in our own or each other’s lives. Fruit, for this
gardener, is not a payment, a transaction, or a ransom for being permitted to
live another day. It is instead the result of mutual love, relationship, and
presence. It is the evidence of life.Jesus does not seem as
concerned about why people die as why people do not live. Everyone dies but not
all truly live. Jesus’ call to repentance (i.e. change of heart ) is the
invitation to choose life.
Now is the time to examine the fig tree of our life. Where is our life bearing fruit? Where is it not? Where do we need to spend time, care, and energy nurturing life and relationships? What are our priorities and do they need adjusting? Who or what orients our life? Are we growing or are we “wasting the soil” in which we have been planted? Repentance is the way to life, the way of becoming most authentically who we are and who, at the deepest level, we long to be. Ultimately, repentance is about choosing to live and live fully.
In Spanish the word
manana means tomorrow or some
unspecified time in the future. In common usage it often refers to postponing
something, putting it on the long finger, delaying a response, not getting
ruffled by events but adopting a carefree attitude. When one Irish man was asked
if his language had a word that corresponded to manana, he said that it had in fact three words but none of them
conveyed the same sense of urgency!