20 March 2022 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Exodus 3, 1-8, 13-15 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 10, 1-6, 10-12 + Luke 13, 1-9
These people who came to Jesus with a great dilemma about God’s justice could just as well be any of us. Many are still caught and confused by the fact that good things happen to bad people. Often, they seem to forget that good things sometimes happen to good people. No matter how you look at there are always deep and serious questions about the balance of God’s justice and God’s mercy.
Much of the Gospel presents a Jesus trying to shake people out of their deficient yet stubborn ideas about God. The people today are trying to make sense of two horrible tragedies with ideas about God that just don’t work. In the first tragedy, Pilate has murdered good people at prayer. The thinking of the day was that those good people were being punished for secret sins that nobody knew about except God who used Pilate to punish them. In the second case, those random victims of a falling building leave them wondering if those victims deserved death or if life simply has no rhyme or reason. We do not need these old events from ages ago to be drawn into this dilemma. The suffering in Ukraine, a collapsed high-rise in Miami, terrorist attacks all over the place can put us in the same frame of mind. Bad things whether they happen to good people or bad people have to shake us up and get us wondering about God, about God’s Justice and God’s Mercy. The second half of this text today gives us the answer Jesus has to this dilemma, and it forces us to think about our very idea of God and how God works. It raises the age-old question about the balance of mercy and justice.
Saint Luke sees the time in which we live as time we are given for one more chance to bear fruit like that fig tree. It is Jesus who softens Divine Justice with a time of Mercy. He is our advocate whose mercy tempers the reality of Divine justice. During this time, the preaching of the Gospel leads us to be fruitful just like the improvement of the soil often leads a barren tree to fruitfulness. During this time, the Incarnation of the Divine into the human gives us a chance when filled with the Holy Spirit to begin to bear fruit. Our tradition spells out those fruits of the Spirit as charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. When any of these are lacking in any of us, we might do well to seize these days of Lent to cultivate a transformation of mind which is what early Christians called “metanoia”.
A life conformed to God’s vision is the fruitful tree that Jesus hopes for in this Gospel. Good things happen to bad people because God hopes and waits for their transformation which takes time. Luke reminds us today that in Jesus humanity has received a reprieve from divine justice. In these days of mercy, Christ works in the Spirit with each of us always hoping that we will burst into bloom with abundant fruit of charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness.