The warnings are plentiful and blunt on the third Sunday in Lent. Cut it out or get cut down! The warnings are accompanied by God’s invitation to attentiveness: “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” The landowner’s ultimatum is forestalled by the gardener’s readiness to till the ground one more year. That is good news for all of us. Thanks be to God!
Readings and Psalm
- Isaiah 55:1-9
Everyone who thirsts, come to the water; seek the Lord
- Psalm 63:1-8
O God, eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you. (Ps. 63:1)
- 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Israel, baptized in cloud and seas, ate the same spiritual food as Christians
- Luke 13:1-9
Unless you repent, you will perish: parable of the fig tree
Fertilized, Fruitful, and Free
God’s word for us today is nutritious and wholesome, though hard to digest. The gospel reading seems oddly brutal alongside the abundance and comfort of the texts from Isaiah (“delight yourselves in rich food”) and Psalm 63 (“My spirit is content as with the richest of foods”). Even Paul finds himself using physical sustenance as a metaphor (“they drank from the spiritual rock, . . . and the rock was Christ”). Surrounded by this food imagery, we now find Jesus using some horrific events as illustrations. After the mingled blood and fallen towers, it may be hard to hear the fig-tree parable as the grace-full story it really is. But here is Christ himself as gardener: digging, fertilizing, protecting, and nurturing us. We are fragile creatures, living in a world of tragedy and terror, but God does not punish fragility with death. On the contrary, God sent Jesus to us so that we may live.
Living in that nurtured garden of Christ, tended to and cared for as we grow in that love, how can we keep from blossoming? Live, yes, and live fruitfully, our gospel proclaims! Grow, yes, and grow gloriously! Now the good news of Christ’s redeeming mercy becomes clear: we are each treated with boundless mercy, not impartial justice. While the world may want to blame the withering tree for its inability to be productive, our Savior and Lord reaches into our lives, reminds us of our roots, nourishes us with grace, and allows us to bloom, to flourish, to freely share our gifts with the world.