Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Third Sunday of Lent: There Is Still Time
Sometimes, when I speak with people preparing for marriage, I feel like a life insurance salesman. I tell them that you really need to have life insurance just in case something horrible happens. You would not want your wife or husband and children put out of your home and relying on charity because you didn’t provide for the worst case scenario. The vast majority of the time, the young couple will agree with this, but sometimes I have the feeling that the couple is just “yessing me” to death, or agreeing with anything just “to keep the priest happy.” One time a future bride told me in no uncertain terms that she did not want to consider this. They were too young to be concerned. There would be plenty of time later to worry about a medical disaster. They were probably too emotionally young to be married.
Sadly, none of us can predict our future. All of us have to be prepared for the future. The Gospel reading for today speaks about sudden and sad tragedies that took place at the time of the Lord. Jesus uses these as a lesson for his disciples and for us. He begins by noting the tragedies. One was an accident: a tower under construction fell in Siloam. Eighteen people, workers and bystanders, were killed. The second was an unprovoked attack. Pontius Pilate, yes that same Roman whom some want to turn into a victim of circumstances regarding the Lord’s death, Pontius Pilate turned a Temple service into a bloodbath. The center of opposition to the Roman occupation of Israel was Galilee. The most adamant of the rebels were the members of a party called the Zealots. By the way, one of these men, Simon the Zealot, left his political agenda and became one of the twelve disciples and then apostles. Back to Pontius Pilate. Pilate heard that a large number of Galilean zealots had gathered in Jerusalem and would be attending a special Temple service. “Perhaps,” Pilate’s spies told him, “they would stir up the locals against Rome.” Pilate decided to nip this in the bud. Only Jews were allowed in the Temple precincts. So Pilate had his soldiers dress as though they were Jews, and mingle in with the crowd. At a given signal, they attacked all those at the service, thus mixing their blood with their Temple sacrifices.
When people’s lives come to a sudden end, whether it is through disease, an accident, due to violence or a natural disaster, we all ask questions like: “Where is God? Has God lost control? Doesn't he recognize what is happening to his people?” Jesus says in the Gospel for today, "God knows, but the time is not yet ready for him to come to judge all people, to protect the innocent victims of evil in the world and to bring evildoers to their just ends. Just as the farmer gives the fig tree one more chance to bear fruit, God gives mankind in general and us in particular a little more time to change our ways.”
Then He will come with power, the power of His Name. Then all people will recognize Him just as the Pharaoh of Egypt was forced to recognize whom God was after Moses proclaimed God's name. When the power of God is revealed then we, “who are no longer under a cloud of uncertainly as our ancestors of the Old Testament times were,” as St. Paul says in today's second reading, then we will stand before God and present ourselves to Him.
But for now we still have time.
It is Lent, the time for us to face up to the evil that is around us and within us. Let me briefly reflect on a psychological aspect of evil. History has clearly shown that the more we participate in evil, the less we notice its existence. Those who ran the death camps of Nazi Germany were so used to arbitrarily choosing individuals for death that many of these murderers had no recognition of the evil of their actions. Those who run the sleazy halls of our society take no responsibility in their actions. Closer to home, the guy at school or at work who treats girls like objects for his lust, motivated by both selfishness and porn, you know the guy usually referred to as “a jerk”, or the girl at school or at work who is perfectly happy with using her sexuality to fill her lust and to achieve whatever else she wants, and there are words we use for her that need not be said, these people have become so used to their own immorality, even so comfortable with it, that they take no responsibility for their actions. “Everyone does this. There is nothing wrong with it.” That is the rationalizing of the devil.
There are times that we have all fallen for this great lie. Even worse, the more we allow ourselves to become involved in immoral activity, the easier it is for us to actually become comfortable with our own immorality.
It does not have to be this way. We are not animals compelled by natural instincts to a course of action. We can change. We need help though. The time to choose the Lord, not just with our words but with the actions of our lives, the time to choose is now, not at some moment in the future when we think we will drastically change and embrace God. That future time might never come. Towers fall. Massacres take place. Loved ones die.
We call upon God to come now and heal this sick world of ours. Are we ready for Him? Are we a fig tree that is producing fruit, or would we have to be cut down with every other part of creation that has failed to serve its purpose?
Lent is the time for reconciliation. Great word, reconciliation. Much better than confession or penance. Reconciliation means setting ourselves right in our relationships with others, God first and then with His presence in His people. Lent is the time for us to recognize our own participation in the cumulative effects of evil in the world. Lent is a time for us to view our own personal tragedies as resulting from the effect of evil on the innocent. Lent is a time for us to ask for forgiveness and courage so that we might bear fruit. Lent is a time for us to face up to our own failings as we recognize that God can and will heal us and help us.
It is not too late. The fig tree has been given another year. May God give us the courage to use His time and our time wisely. May we bear fruit.