Now is Late Enough
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did"!
And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down""
This third Sunday of Lent, the Lord has strong words for us: “If you do not repent, you will all perish!” We might consider this to be a little too much were it coming from the pulpit. Such a statement, that unless we turn from our sins, we will die a horrible death, might easily fall into the “fire and brimstone” category. But Jesus is insistent, and we know that everything he says comes from his Sacred Heart, which constantly burns with perfect love for each of us. So those difficult words are in fact words of incredible love. They must be.
Jesus reveals the meaning of his startling words through the parable that follows his warning. We hear of a gardener who defends the life of an unproductive tree on the land of his master. He earns one last growing season for the tree, during which he provides it with everything it could possibly need for growth, and more, in the hope that it will, at long last, bear the fruit for which it was planted. Who is the gardener but Jesus himself? Who is the tree but each one of us?
When Jesus warns us to repent, he is telling us he has earned for us one final age, this one, in which to find mercy. He is telling us he has pleaded for us, and won us the opportunity to bear the fruit we were meant to bear: love of God and of our neighbor, that we might enter heaven. He is telling us he will provide everything we could possibly need in terms of divine assistance, if we would only let him help us.
We must take Our Lord at his word and understand him as seriously as he seems to desire. His urgency is the urgency of love, like the warning of a parent to a child in grave danger.
The truth is that if we do not continually turn away from sin and, with the help that comes from God alone, learn to love him more deeply than we love anything else, we will in fact perish forever — not as the arbitrary punishment of a capricious and cruel God, but the natural result of turning away from the source of our life. The commandment that we love God above all else is not a demand from an insecure deity who must always be affirmed to feel comfortable, but simply the truth that human nature is only at rest when in the act of loving God. Indeed, God does not need our love, being already complete in himself, but he knows that we are structured in such a way that we desperately need to love him in order to become entirely who we are as human beings.
The Lord pleads with us only that we do what is already for our benefit, and which will therefore be for the benefit of others. If we listen to his urgings, if we examine our lives for the things that keep us from loving God totally and if we confess our sins well during this Lenten season, the perfect love of the Father stands open to us. What stops us but pride, or the fear that comes from pride? What is the price of this mercy but humility? We do well to recall our Father’s voice in the book of Ezekiel:
“Why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone … so turn, and live” (Ezek 18:31-32).
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