All posts for the month March, 2013

March 31, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Acts of the Apostles 10, 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3, 103 + Luke 24, 13–35

I don’t believe there is anyone in this church who does not understand and has not experienced part of what Luke is describing in this Gospel. Everyone of us has had our faith in Jesus Christ shaken. Those two men walking along were leaving Jerusalem. I believe they had given up. They were turning their back on that place where their hopes had been raised. They left the apostles behind. They were walking away from Jesus Christ turning their backs to him.

How could God let this happen? How could God have abandoned Jesus leaving him to die at the hands of those fanatics? How could all that he had promised and the hope he raised be so quickly destroyed? We’ve all been there. How could God let me lose my job with a family to feed and shelter? How could my child, so full of life and promise be so sick and die so young? How could that doctor tell me there is no hope? I’ve always been so faithful to prayer, and now this happens.

This world is full of people who have struggled against evil and sadness, disappointment and broken promises. Some of you are here today barely hanging on, and some have already turned their backs in disappointment and discouragement. Some of us bear the scars and memories of our own trouble but have managed to hang on just a little while longer.

These two men in Luke’s Gospel are all of us, and their story is ours. The whole story: we all know the first part really well, but today we must hear the second part which can stir our hope and soften our hearts. This is a message of hope. We don’t need to hear the story of Christ’s resurrection today. We know it very well. We do not need to hear about the women coming first and then Peter and John on the run to look in wonder and dare to believe.

What you have just heard proclaimed today is also a resurrection story. It is also the story of life’s victory over death, of hope’s triumph over disappointment. This story reaches into our experience. We’ve never seen an empty tomb. We’ve never heard angels talking or seen men dressed in white announcing that “He is not here.” At least I hope you haven’t . That would complicate things. But we have known our share of disappointments when probably more than once things in our lives have not turned out the way we expected.

Yet for many people like the men of this story, and those in John’s Gospel, Matthew’s or Mark’s, there is the promise made by Christ to all who follow him and listen to his word: the promise that he would not leave us, that he would remain with us, and all the healing, the forgiveness, the new life he granted to lepers, the blind, the lame, and the possessed in the Gospels would be ours as well. It is a promise that people of faith celebrate week after week, year after year. Those who have tragedies, disappointment, and brokenness without turning their back on Christ or running away from their fellow believers stand as witness to the resurrection: their own.

We live in the hope that Christ will find us, walk with us, and be revealed to us in the unity we share as Church. We rejoice in the resurrection today for more than Christ’s resurrection. I rejoice when I look at so many of you whose lives are a story of the resurrection, whose lives haves not turned out the way you thought they might, who had hoped that one thing or another would have been different. I rejoice because you have found the grace, the courage, and the spirit to rise up and be made new. To dry the tears of others who weep, and to strengthen the faith of those whose faith may be shaken from time to time and make them want to run away.

We do not run. We do not turn our back on Jerusalem, Luke’s symbol of the church. We continue to break open the Word of God, and let that word open our hearts and eyes to see the presence of Christ in the faces of those around us. We cling to these great truths because we know them to be true. We have risen again from every little death that would put us down. All our lives are in this story. We are either running toward Emmaus or we are running back to Jerusalem. Where ever you are in this story today here in this church, take hope, risk believing, you are never alone, we are, all of us rising again and again proclaiming with Joy that THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE. This is the day of our salvation.

March 30, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Luke 24, 1-12

“And they remembered his words” Luke writes. At that moment everything changed; the fear was gone, downcast faces lifted to the light, an empty tomb made sense, the death was understood, their purpose and role in this puzzling mess made sense. They ran to the others and announced all these things to the eleven and the others. They are the first, these women, the first evangelists, and all that set this in motion, all that took away their fear, lifted their downcast hearts, was that they remembered.

It struck me in sitting with this Gospel a few weeks back that there are two sets of “others”: the “others” who are with the eleven and the “others” who are with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. Who are these “others” except you, me, and the others in the rest of this world?

We must be the ones who remember, and tonight, my dear friends who are so newly welcomed into communion with Christ and His church, you must always remember.Remember this night. Remember the Joy, the excitment, the sence of oneness, and the peace we hope you find in this church and in our company. In remembering, you will be like those women whose fear vanished, whose confusion and doubt is wiped away by the news we have shared with you. No longer should you be in darkness. No longer should you doubt where you belong and who it is that has calleld you to this place. There is nothing else you need to seek but the fellowship of this table where you will discover week after week the risen Lord in the breaking of bread.

There are others in this world, like those “others” who were hiding in that upper room. To them you must go. With them you must share what you have found in this darkned empty church tonight: the Light of Christ! With us now you can lift up your hearts. With us now you can give thanks. You who have this night been anointed with the Spirit standing before the rest of us reminding us, and helping us remember what a gift we have, what privilege it is to be here one with a church that is ever new because you are here and ever old founded and rooted on the faith of those first witnesses who found not an empty tomb, but the risen Christ who called them by name, filled them with a measure of his spirit, and sent them out to baptize, to heal, to forgive, and to exend the mercy of God and the love of God to those no one else would love.

“Peace be with you” is the first greeting of Christ to those who were coming to believe what he had promised. “Peace be with you” is what we say to you tonight and everytime we gather in this holy place so that you may bear the peace of Christ where ever it is needed, to whomever is troubled and alone wanting and hoping to believe. Remember, my friends. This is the day the Lord has made!

March 29, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 52, 13-53 + Psalm 31 + Hebrews 4, 14-16; 5, 7-9  + John 18, 1; 19,42

It all began with a breath, that moment of human awakening. Adam breathes in, and there is life, and it is good. Then in a moment it is finished. Paradise is lost by one decision. Yet while it may be finishsed, it is not over. Then a new Adam breathes out, and says: “It is finished.” But, it is not over. Both of them breathe love. What began in Genesis is not finished. What began there was that love should give birth to love. So it was that through the Word, the first Adam came to be; but because he did not love, the Word became the second Adam who bore the fruits of all the Adams and Eves who have not loved. Here at the cross, the great work is finished. Here is the one person who did and who was through the centuries what the rest of us failed to do and be. Quite simply and wonderfully, he loved the Father, and the Father loved him.

It all began with a breath, and it ends with a breath. It is finished, but it is not over. He who breathes his last still breathes once more upon us. At the moment of salvation when love is at its best, he breathes out, so that we may breathe in that love, that life, that Spirit he “hands over”, as John says it in his Passion narrative: “He handed over his spirit.”

Creation begins again. Those who have not loved receive the breath of love. It is as though we take a deep breath to sing out the hymn of creation in praise and honor of the very God whose love is never withheld even from the countless Adams and Eves who have failed to love and to live. It is never a love that is earned or give like a reward. It is a love that is pure and simple, granted as grace to every Adam and every Eve who have stepped foot in this garden God has entrusted to us.

A story is told of Peter who is finally in heaven looking around. Suddenly he sees Judas walking toward the gates. Judas has a box. In the box is rooster. Peter says, “You have no business here.” Judas opens the box, and the two look at one another and both begin to weep. Their tears however are tears of joy, not shame or sadness, and two sinners embrace. Because the Spirit has breathed upon Peter the breath of life and life-giving grace, Peter can breathe upon Judas and everyother Judas and find what is sometimes simply too much to imagine: total forgiveness and mercy.

So, as I said, it all began with a breath. One breathes in, and the other breaths out. When Jesus breathes his last and says: “It is finished” he does not mean it is over. It simply means he has given over his spirit to the rest of us who shall in a moment stand at the foot of the cross. We have courage to do it now, when we might not have had the courage to do it then because we have inhaled the breath of His Spirit.

This age in which we live does not see what we see in the cross, and so it looks the other way. The cheap and popular Gospel of these days proclaims a life of leasure, pleasure, and wealth, of comfort and satisfaction. It runs from and hides the cross turing it into a piece of jewlery. Suffering is to be avoided all costs, like the flu. The Passion and death of Christ is romanticized with pastel colors, Easter Bunnies, colored eggs, and sentimental tunes with all the depth of a country/western balad.

It cannot be so for us. He died, a bloody, terrible death innocent and without sin. As Paul says, “It is Christ crucified that we preach.” He suffered becasue we will not. He died because we pretent that there is no death, while making idols of youthfulness and youthful beauty never seeing the face of God in an old man or woman whose life has been spent in loving sacrifice. This world still needs the cross and what it says about love and commitment, service and obedience to God’s will. We cannot run from the cross We may not hide in churches that will not display nor sit beneath a crucifix it humbled by its message.

The last breath of Jesus is not the last beath of life because you and I have inhaled once again the breath of his spirit. It is not over. The Passion of Christ began with a kiss from Judas, a sinner. This liturgy will end a few minutes with a kiss at the foot of a cross: a kiss from sinners who live with the hope that the cross offers all whole will repent, take up their cross and follow the one who has handed over to us his spirit.“Come, follow me.” is how discipleship begins, and this Good Day reveals where he is leading us…….into the mystery of God’s love where God will once again breathe life into us.

March 28, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Exodus 12, 1-8, 11-14 + Psalm 116 + 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26 + John 13, 1-15

We are about to enter into the experience of dying and rising. It is what Jesus has spoken of again and again in his ministry among us. It is what Jesus continues to do in and through us. It is what being “born again” really means. It is what “being lifted up” means. It is what we do in this place around this sacred altar. In his instruction to Nicodemus in the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel he speaks of being “born again:”, and Nicodemus, cannot figure out how that is possible stuck as he is in the material and physical world. As Jesus leads him to understand and desire this re-birth, Jesus suggests that the only way this can happen is by a kind of self-oblation. There can’t be anything left. It’s like the sacrifices in the old Temple, the sacrifice (and that is the key word here) had to be wiped out, obliterated, chopped up, burned up, poured out, broken up, or eaten up. It was “sacrificed”. That is what Jesus puts before us as the method by which a person is born again.

Everyone of us who has any hope of eternal life must be born again. The language we have used for centuries to describe this is “die and rise”; and the desire to do that is what brings us to this place around this altar. Our dying and rising, began on the day of our Baptism. That was the beginning. It was far from the end. It was an initiation into a life-style of dying and rising, a life of self-sacrifice, a life that reaches it’s perfection in being “lifted up” in the language of Jesus.

The mistake too many make is that Baptism’s dying and rising is a one-time event, thinking that it somehow gives you a ticket or a free-pass into eternal life. Such thinking is shallow, silly, and far from the truth. When asked how many would be saved Jesus responded suggesting that many would be lost and only a “few” would be saved. The lost may well be those who though initiated were never lifted up sharing in the sacrifice of Christ. The truth is, by Baptism we are initiated into a mystery that is alive and on-going. We die and rise, we are lifted up again and again in the sacrifices we make in love for those in need whom we serve. 

Tomorrow we shall stand and kneel before another body on a cross, used up, broken, and finished; “lifted up” as John puts it. Before that happened in the order of things, another oblation took place in an upper room. In a few moments that oblation will take place on this altar. I want you to hang on to that word “oblation” so often used in the new missal. Think of “obliterate” when you hear it, because that is what is happening here. Before Christ was lifted to that cross, he was lifted at a Table in an oblation  like the Lamb sacrificed at the Passover. Here another lamb, the Lamb of God as the Prophet John called him. Here another body is broken up, destroyed, eaten up, obliterated only to rise again in us because of our oneness with the one who calls us to be lifted up through him, with him, and in him.

Through us, with us, and in us, Christ rises from the dead again, and his life and his work continues. We enter into the same intimate relationship with the Father he knew and by the their Holy Spirit, we are sealed and gifted with what takes to become children of God. 

This, my friends is what we do here, and it is what we can become here. Christ is in the place. The risen Christ is in us because of what we consume, eat, and drink at this altar. Because of this oblation, we become an oblation breaking our lives for others, wearing our selves out, offering our gifts, washing the feet of the weary and tired. “Do this in memory of me.” means more than repeat his words and share consecrated bread and wine. It means make yourself an oblation, a sacrifice for others.

We do this today keeping the memory of what happened in that upper room leading us to tomorrow and the next day. We do this bearing witness for our children and all who are yet to come with the hope that by the witness of our sacrifices and love they may led deeper into this mystery and find meaning in life oneness with Christ and a share in his eternal divine life.

March 24, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 50, 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2, 6-11 + Luke 22, 14 – 23, 56

The proclamation of the Passion so easily allows us to be spectators when in fact we are disciples. We must not listen to the passion. We must learn from the Passion. Jesus teaches all the way till his last breath, and then he even teaches from the tomb. If we have chosen to be in the this church, then there is no place for us except as disciples learning again from the master. There is no room in the Passion nor in the church for spectators. When it comes down to the Passion and Holy Week, it’s time to get on your knees and learn from the master.

The movies and the media and some shallow spiritualities might want to impress us with the ugliness, the suffering, the injustice, and the persecution, and that might be fine for moment or two, but you can’t stop there. The Passion of Christ is not about how Christ suffered, what happened to him, and how awful we might think it was. The Passion of Christ is about his response, not his persecution.

For a long time before Jesus, people persecuted each other, and it has continued without a pause since Jesus himself suffered and died. People die horrible deaths. Innocent people die too, put to death by legal injection, the miscarriage of justice and the abuse of power and authority. Christ is still suffering in the poor, the abused, and victims of violence all over this earth. The tragedy is that it is all so common, and so disciples must look to the master to learn from him the response to all this because the Passion is not about suffering and persecution. It is about the response of Jesus.

Watch and learn from the master. Despite his fear and his agony, he is focused on God and on others. He meets women who are weeping for him, and he tells them to weep for themselves. He hangs there with a criminal, and he comforts him with a promise of Paradise. No matter what happens in this Passion, it is never about him. He remains attentive and focused on God and the needs of others.

Our world has been filled with suffering and pain since the first humans made their appearance. What is new is the response of Jesus to that pain. No complaint. No whining, No blaming. No excuses, and no denial. It’s all for others; total selflessness and sacrifice out of love. This is something new in the face of something old. Learning that lesson, some have risen up with hope and courage in the face of  injustice and pain in this world ready and willing with courage and faith risk persecution and hatred and bring comfort, hope, and relief to the suffering never thinking of themselves.

This is what we can learn from the Passion; not how Christ died, but what he still teaches us through his death about hope, about sacrifice, and about love for others.

Let the Holy Week begin, and let this world be filled with people who learn from the master’s suffering how to respond.

Lent 5

March 17, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 43, 16-21 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 3, 8-14 + Luke 8, 1-11

I have always disliked this Gospel story. I don’t like the thought of that woman standing there in her shame in front of a bunch of haughty accusers pointing at her, threatening her, and challenging Jesus. It is just an ugly scene, an ugly thought, a sad moment that really only resolves kindly for that woman. The rest of us are left standing there looking down.

I don’t like the fact that she is being used. This is not about her, and it is not about adultery. It is about those scribes and pharisees with all their self-righteous moral superiority using that woman to trap Jesus and prove themselves so law abiding and innocent. I just don’t like it when people get used by other people to make themselves look good. It happens all the time, because people who want to look good are not good, or at least do not feel good about themselves, so they have to use someone else or tear them down with their accusations, gossip, or whispered stories that may or may not be true.

I don’t like the fact that she is there alone. It takes two to commit that sin. Where is that guy? Did he slip away in the confusion of being caught? In that culture, according to the Book of Deuteronomy (22,22) which those scribes and pharisees knew very well, both were to be killed. They are not enforcing the law. Maybe the husband set the trap knowing that she would be killed. Perhaps some enemies of his set the trap in order to shame him. It is impossible to decide but the embarrassment of the situation is surpassed only by the malice of setting the trap to catch the partners in the act. There is ugly malice here, and it isn’t adultery.

Of course, the trap for the woman only a setup for the trap being set for Jesus which is what this is all about. If Jesus urges them to release the woman, he violates the law, and they will pounce on him faster than they did on the woman. If he orders her to be stoned, he will be in trouble with the Romans who have taken away the right of capital punishment from the Judeans.

He doodles on the ground. It was and still is what people did at that time and place when they are thinking. Finally he responds to their badgering by challenging this zealous lynch mob to consider their motives. He asks them to think about why they are there, and that stops them in their tracks, because their righteous goal is motivated by the wrong reason; and that’s not a good way to accomplish something right. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason never makes it the right thing no matter what.

In the end, it seems to me that the scribes and pharisees are the ones caught, not just the woman. In a world where getting caught now seems to be worse than what you were caught doing, the story leaves us with more than enough to think about for the rest of Lent as we prepare for Passion Week. It’s almost as though unless we get caught doing wrong, we can keep on going without a thought about what’s going on. Sadly, our children are learning this all too quickly. They seem to spend more time in denial and lying, covering up and devising schemes to not get caught than they might in looking at why they do those things in the first place. We have taught them this behavior, and it is like a virus spreading widely and wildly.

The consequence of all this is a lot of resentment, revenge and anger. We seem to resent mercy, and we find the easy forgiveness of Jesus a little hard to imitate. In him we find no revenge even toward the scribes and pharisees who try so hard to trap him. At best, this ugly story can give us hope for the day when we shall stand before the judge, the prophet, the Son of Man in all our guilt and shame and hope that there will be no rush to judgement, and that having used others far too often, accused, and blamed others, we might escape the stoning and death we deserve.The one who said: “Behold, I make all things new.” is remaking the look of justice. The best we can do is stand there in grateful awe and silence waiting for the look of mercy. If that is our hope, we might have a better chance that it would come true by beginning to practice and share that mercy with each other, lifting the burden of shame, purifying all our motives for the good that we do, and making sure that we never again use anyone to make ourselves look better while embracing the truth that we are sinners hoping for forgiveness and we have no business holding stones in our hands.

Lent 4

March 10, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Joshua 5, 9-12 + Psalm 34 2 Corinthians 5, 17-21 Luke 15, 1-3, 11-32

There is something more important and deeper than the story of an apple, a snake, and two people at the beginning of Genesis. Some like to think it is the story of sin, and what some call, “Original Sin.” I have no argument with  that interpretation. It simply doesn’t matter to me. It seems to me that getting all hung up on Adam and Eve an their sin in Paradise is the beginning of the blame game.  It becomes very easy to blame them for everything, and act as though their sin is the cause of my sin, which of course is silly since that thinking proposes that we have no choice and are so helpless that we cannot say “No” to temptation.

At this age of my life, I am beginning to see a little deeper into that story and see it from another angle; one which today’s Gospel proposes to us. I wonder how it is that finding themselves in that Paradise, living in such innocent and pure intimacy with God, with each other, with all of creation with everything in all creation at their disposal, they refused to be happy, to enjoy, and live with glad satisfaction in those circumstances. To put it simply; was wrong with them? Why could they not live that joy?

What this story then becomes and reveals is the beginning of our refusal to accept and live in the joy of being in God’s presence. Despite being placed in this wonderful world, despite being called into this beautiful community of faith in which we can experience daily the presence of Christ handed on for us in the Holy Eucharist, in spite of the blessed assurance of God’s love revealed in the Word of God we proclaim so boldly, we still refuse the joy.

Every member of the human family with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our Lord himself has become preoccupied with our own effort to find joy in everything but the free gift of God’s graceful love. We seem to prefer our own insufficient and short-lived efforts to find joy and contentment everywhere else. The consequence is a world of sadness, loneliness, stress, addiction, or despair. We ignore and sometimes refuse the abiding joy that God longs to give us.

I wonder sometimes if we do this because it is too good to be true, or because we cannot imagine a reality beyond ourselves, beyond what we can think of or create or control. Whatever the reason to see and our refusal to enter into the joy that God offers us, we have the source of sadness, sinfulness, and in the end the real possibility of our eternal loss.

Look at this Gospel story. It is our story. Not many of us can identify with the younger son so don’t spend a lot of time on that piece of this story unless you know you have run off and squandered it all. Not too many of us can identify with the father unless you’re really close to God and God-like behavior. I like to think of him in connection with last week’s parable where the fig tree had a champion to hoe, fertilize, and water for one more year. Whoever that was; they didn’t give up on the tree just like this father does not give up on either son. He waited, like God waits. He never said to the rest of the family: “Forget it, he’s always been that way, and he’ll never change.”  I doubt that he even changed the locks on the house! Did you ever notice that they had a fatted calf on hand?  I’ve always suspected that the father kept one ready for that day when it would be needed.

It seems to me that if we want to bring this parable to life, we ought to take a good look at that older son, the who has everything, the one who is always there, like you and me in this church week and after week, the one so favored and so gifted by this generous father. We’re the ones who have it all, at least all that we need. We are the ones who live in the father’s presence. Yet, we all have spells when we refuse the ultimate gift provided by this generous father, the gift of joy that comes from sharing the father’s joy, from embracing and joining in a blessed reunion, and participating in the father’s generosity.

Fortunately for us, the father keeps waiting, keeps coming out, keeps calling us to come and share the joy, to realize with joy all that we have been given, to embrace with joy the promise made to those who choose to live in his house, to be watchful and quick to welcome those who have run off seeking their own pleasures and fortune, and finally to share the joy that comes from intimacy and the favor of feasting at this table.

In John’s Gospel at the last supper, Jesus prays intensely: “As the father loves me so I also love you. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain his love. I have told you this so that my joy might in in you and your joy might be complete.”

This Joy that Jesus offers us is not something that can be found by human ingenuity or cleverness. It comes from our relationship with Christ and through Him with His Father. It is the surest sign of a shared life and love of God. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in us. It is this joy that guards and strengthens us in the face of every trial and trouble. The Joy that flows from Spirit is not what we feel when we accomplish something and get the praise of others; it is peace and confidence when our best plans go wrong, when we experience the ridicule and criticism of others.

Already in this season, we anticipate the joy of Easter. This is no time for gloomy and reluctant disciplines that make us miserable, but a season when we endure with joy the things that will lead us not to just one Easter day, but a life time, and an eternity of Easter glory.

Lent 3

March 3, 2013 at St Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Exodus 3, 1-8. 13-15 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 10, 1-6.10-12 + Luke 13, 1-9

It’s a vineyard, what is that fig tree doing there? This should make you curious. For years I wondered about that when I would hear this Gospel. It’s a vineyard for growing grapes, not an orchard. There is some odd disorder about this fig tree in a vineyard that ought to make us curious. Fig trees bear fruit through most of the year. In that part of the world, only April and May finds them without some fruit. So now and then they might be planted in a vineyard where grapes were more unpredictable. But land for growing food was very precious and scarce. Even more so was the water. So Luke takes us to a vineyard today. Along with a banquet, a vineyard is the most frequent and ancient image of the Church in the New Testament. 

At the first level, Jesus is speaking to the Jews who are not responding to his message. He is giving them one last chance to respond, that is to say, bear fruit. Luke uses this parable for that early Christian community who are still living among the Jews, yet already populated by Gentiles. It would seem that among them are some who are not bearing any fruit. Like a fig tree in the vineyard, they are taking up space, using up water which the vines need, but there is no fruitfulness from their presence. Now we proclaim this parable once more remembering what the vineyard means as a symbol of the faithful community, the church, grafted onto the Christ: the true. So it is important to listen to this gospel with these images in our mind.

I like to call this parable, “The Last Chance Story”. It is today proclaimed to us with the same images and challenges as before; the same reminder and same message. It invites us to reflect upon on our place in the vineyard of the Church; to wonder about our own fruitfulness, about whether or not we take or give. It proposes that we might give some serious thought about what we’re doing here and why: taking up space, using up the resources (like the fig tree uses up water) or do we contribute something by way of bearing fruit.

The story should out to be heard along with all the other fig tree stories. There are several, and in all of them there is a serious expectation that fruit is to be produced. In Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist says: “Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire.” His voice speaks again in Luke’s 3rd chapter with the same assurance that “any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire.” It was John’s belief that with the coming of Jesus an hour of destiny had come: bear fruit, or be cut down. Mark’s gospel uses the same image even more powerfully. In the 11th chapter, Jesus walks by a tree that is not bearing fruit and complained. The next morning his disciples walked by that tree again and it had “withered to the roots”, says the Gospel.

The message of the parable could not be more clear. If we are in this vineyard, then something is expected of us. We can’t simply be here taking up space and using up the nutrients without producing something. Uselessness invites disaster. A useless fig tree is threatened with destruction. Here we come to one of the most fundamental aspects of what Jesus has to say about life. Goodness is a positive thing. One of the most frequent we hear all the time is terribly off the mark: “I didn’t do anything wrong.” or “I never hurt anyone.” The person who says or thinks that way is living under the impression that this is goodness. But the demand of Jesus is not, “Have you done no harm?” It is, “What good have you done?” The basic sin is to take more out of life than your put in. The basic Christian test is not “what did you get out of life.” but “What did you put in?” It is the same with our life as a church.  You ought to ask yourself on the way home what you put in, now what you got out of this hour?

The greatest problem that put this fig tree in danger of destruction was that it failed to realize its own possibilities. It had in its nature to be the most productive of all fruit trees. In this case, it had even more going for it, because it was planted in a fertile and productive vineyard, but it was in fact still fruitless. What a tragedy!

Two last thoughts about this fig tree.  It had a champion that begs for just one more chance. There was someone willing to dig around it, fertilize, and encourage it. Then there is one more thing a little more ominous that can’t be denied or avoided. There is a limit. After one more year, the limit for the fig tree came. I believe this Gospel says to us that there is a final chance, there is a limit. It would be dangerous to live in denial of this fact. It is a law of nature that when we fail to us a faculty or ability given to us, we will lose it. If you live long enough in the dark, you will go blind. If you don’t use an arm or a leg long enough, it will atrophy. If we consistently refuse or avoid the invitation and challenge of Christ we will become incapable of accepting it, in which case, it is not God who condemns, we who do it to ourselves.In the midst of this season when prayer, abstinence, fasting, and charity are used to hoe around us and stir us to life, we have this brilliant parable to remind, to challenge, and invite us to question and examine just what we’re doing here and how much fruit comes from our presence and whether or not we risk destruction by delay and denial.