Most Sundays we reflect on compassion and care, but what often governs our actions throughout the week, are the twins, fear and anxiety. In Luke 13:1-9, we hear Jesus begin by noting that fear causes us to either blame others for misfortune, or to assign blame to the victims. Sometimes we even blame ourselves as a way to make sense of suffering or disaster. What happens if no one is to blame; what if things just happen and our attempts at causality are flawed. Is it better to have a reason for misfortune? How does that change the event itself?
In Corinthians, Paul warns his fractious community, that warring groups share the problem. Winning and acting self-righteously only increase the pain and sever responsibility. The task is ultimately to be fixed on the kingdom that Jesus has shown us, not the petty squabbles of daily life. That does not mean that we can avoid conflict. Rather we are invited to listen to each other without prejudice. What will lead us to the peaceable solution is acceptance that everyone is hearing the Spirit in our own ways, not necessarily only the oneway. Paul warns that when we are quick to judge, we have already trespassed ourselves.
To return to the gospel and the story of the fig tree. Do we often close the door on solutions when they are not timely enough for us? Instead of thinking of God as the owner of the vineyard, what if we are the owners? What if we are the ones who need to learn mercy and forbearance? It was common practice in Jesus’ time to espalier grape vines on fig trees. So in some years, there would be a double harvest. Moreover, a friend wrote to me to say that it takes five or six years for a fig tree to mature. So it would be unreasonable to expect a young tree to produce fruit. Patience until the time is ripe. Waiting for things to mature. Allowing things to become clear before we judge.
The lesson to be considered is this. Can we release ourselves from the fear of not being ready enough or right enough? Are we able to trust others also to do their best? Can we give up blaming ourselves and others as a Lenten sacrifice? If Jesus is our judge, then let us have confidence in his mercy as we learn and grow. If the Maker loves all the creation, then we can believe that the things that happen to us are not the result of divine action to blame or punish or even teach. Rather, Holiness surrounds us like prayer shawls to show us how to live through both struggle and joy, confident that we are eternally connected to each other through God and by divine love and mercy.
From Jacob’s Journey by Noah benShea:
Fear makes us not only less than we might be but less than we think we are. Faith reminds us we should doubt our fears.
And: The difference between a Tower of Babel and a towel of strength is the difference between those who live to make themselves more and those who know the way to heaven is in making others more.