Are You ready to Repent?


Third Sunday of Lent

Ex 3: 1-81, 13-15; Luke 13: 1-9

Dc. Larry Brockman

Are you ready to repent?  After all, Jesus is talking to you and I, not just the Jews of the first century, because we are all likely guilty of their sin- by concerning ourselves with our brother’s sins, and not our own sins.  And just like them, we need to repent.   

How so?  Well, which of us does not read the paper, or watch the TV news, or browse the internet each day to learn about, and then dwell on, everybody else’s sins- the public official who went to a prostitute or travelled to visit his mistress on public funds; the Caribbean people suffering from an earthquake whose leaders long ago allegedly made a pact with the devil; The army doctor who went berserk in a recruiting center; or the well respected rich man who runs a Ponzi scheme and bilks millions of folks out of their life savings.  Don’t some of these stories actually make us feel better about ourselves?  Because we compare ourselves to these people and come away with a certain comfort about our lack of guilt.  “Thank God I am not like these great sinners”.  We may even say that the dire consequences some of these sinners experienced served them right for what they did, and that God is punishing them for it.   

Somewhat closer to home, but still in the same vein, what about the people close to us in our lives who have wronged us, or whose sins are being exposed- the coworker who said something in gossip about us; the neighbor who allegedly is having an affair?  Are we so pre-occupied with these things that we don’t look at our own sins?   

All of that sounds so much like today’s Gospel story, doesn’t it-  people pointing fingers at others who suffered and asking Jesus if they were punished because of their sins.  But what does Jesus say?  He says no, they were not singled out for their sin, not just once but twice.  He says they are not greater sinners than the rest of the people.  Jesus tells his people to look at their own sins, and not to concern themselves with the sins of others.  And the reason that they should look at their own sins is that time is urgent.  Because you could experience a disaster at any time, just like the people in the two stories; and when you face judgment, the Lord will be concerned with your conduct, not the conduct of others.  And so, Jesus tells them to repent or they will perish just like those in the two notorious stories.   

That’s when he tells the parable of the fig tree.  You see, the fig tree is like the people that question Jesus.  The fig tree is passively biding time- three years in time, signifying an indefinite length of time- not too short, and not too long.  The fig tree has not taken in nourishment to grow and bear fruit in that time, it is just sitting there, watching the world go by.  Jesus wants each of us to bear fruit; not to be passive in the indefinite length of time we live.  He wants us to make an effort.  Like the fig tree, God will give us fertilizer and water, and give us yet more time, yet another chance, to repent and change our ways.  In other words, He gives us the grace we need to do something with our lives, no matter what we’ve done in the past.  But, we cannot be passive observers, and dwell on the sins of others.  We need to pay attention now to our own failings.   

This is a hard lesson for us all to learn,  To forget about our brothers sin, and just concentrate on ourselves.  Leonardo Da Vinci learned this lesson while he was painting his famous “Last Supper” in Milan.  While he was working on the painting, he had a bitter argument with another painter, an enemy who he had long despised.  To vent his anger at this other artist,   Da Vinci used the artist’s face as a model for the face of Judas Iscariot, the Apostle who betrayed the Lord.   Leonardo felt a sense of evil satisfaction in coming up with a humiliation that all his peers would recognize, and one that would last though the centuries.   As he worked on the faces of the other Apostles, he often tried to paint the face of Jesus, but couldn’t make any progress.   He advanced steadily in painting all the figures, except that of Jesus, the most important one.   He became more and more frustrated and confused.   In time he realized what was wrong.  His hatred for the other painter was holding him back from finishing the face of Jesus; it kept him from being able to see Jesus clearly.  Only after making peace with his fellow painter and repainting the face of Judas was he able to paint the face of Jesus and complete his masterpiece.  Da Vinci was so pre-occupied with others perceived failings, he was blind to his own failings, and to what Jesus intended for him.  When he recognized that this was the problem, he also recognized his need to repent, to change his way of thinking and reconcile with his enemy.  Only then was his mind and heart free to feel the inspiration that God had for him.   

Lent is a season of reflection.  All of us are asked to fast and abstain and give something up.  Why?  Not for others to see, or to keep score; but rather, because it makes us more sensitive, more in tune with our feelings.  By experiencing real sacrifice and some self mortification, we can look deeper in our own lives and get to the core of how we are not measuring up, and then reflect on how we can change our lives for the better.  In other words, we can discern how we need to repent.  

I will leave you now with some very sobering words- the parting words of St. Paul this morning:  “Whoever thinks that he is standing secure, should take care not to fall”.

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