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!
The transfiguration of Jesus must have been a glorious experience for Peter, James and John. They wanted to stay there, as we all do when we have a peak experience. But they had to descend into the valley, to live their lives, to follow Jesus. It doesn’t seem that we grow in depth if we only have peak experiences, if we stay on the mountain top. Things have trouble growing on mountaintops. Beyond the tree line almost nothing will grow because it is too cold and there is a lack of moisture. Living things grow best in the valley: they can develop roots; they are grounded. While they may lack the excitement of mountain peaks, valleys tend to be growing places. But it is in the valley that we really acquire depth, rootedness, strength and flexibility. That is where we are called to mature emotionally and spiritually. Of course, we need both; we can’t always live in the valley.
Often our reading of this story focuses on what is seen but do we sometimes emphasise the light of transfiguration to the exclusion of the voice of transfiguration? We are looking but are we listening? A voice came from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” ‘Listen’ is the only thing the disciples are told throughout this whole event. Listening is central to transfiguration. Yet Luke records no words or teaching from Jesus during this event. Jesus is silent. So it must be about more than words, instructions, and lessons. True listening is an interior quality, a way of being. It is more about the heart than the ears. And it is more about silence than words. Ultimately, listening is about presence.
Listening creates an opening through which the transfigured Christ enters and transforms us. Listening asks of us intention, attention, and letting go of the things that deafen us. Anything that destroys or limits presence is a form of deafness. We are being told to be present, to be open, to be receptive to the one who is always present to us, whether we are on the mountaintop or in the valley or covered by the cloud of unknowing.
Gospel story follows immediately on from Jesus’ baptism. Each of the three
temptations touches on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, which had been
revealed during his baptism: ‘This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well
pleased.’ “Notice that each of the three temptations is preceded by the same
verse: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ The first way the evil one tempts
any of us is to make us doubt our divine identity. Once we think we are no
good, we are lost.” (R.Rohr) We can so easily find our identity in what we do, in what we have, in what other people think of us, instead of in who
we are, which can so easily be overlooked or forgotten in our crazy, hectic,
tightly scheduled, work-oriented lives.
The type of temptations we experience and the circumstances by which they come are unique to each one of us because they reveal what’s inside us, what fills us. That’s why just saying no is an overly simplistic understanding of this gospel and an inadequate response to temptation. Temptation is less about a choice and more about our identity and direction in life. Who am I? Where is my life headed? We answer those questions every time we face and respond to our temptations. We face ourselves and learn the ways in which our life has become disconnected from the original beauty of our creation and the transfiguring presence of God. Temptation offers us something to be discovered and the opportunity to recover ourselves. Regardless of what we see there within us, it’s just information, a diagnosis. It’s not a final judgment, a conclusion, or our grade on God’s final exam! We don’t pass or fail our temptations. We learn the truth about how we see ourselves. We learn the truth about the direction of our life and who we are becoming. This learning is neither easy nor pain free but it is the necessary learning which leads us to change our hearts (repent).
is the time to spend time in the ‘desert’ of silence where the inner life
thrives. We need to create a time and a space to allow God to reshape and
redirect our life, to return us to the truth of who we are, daughters and sons
of God, beloved children, with whom He is well pleased. The angels of God will
hold on to us when we can’t hold on to ourselves.