Cardinal John’s Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent:

Today’s Gospel seems very harsh…Jesus gives a warning ‘unless you repent, you will all perish’ He was not giving a threat …he was speaking of God’s love and patience.

Part of today’s Gospel is chillingly like what happened in Christchurch…it’s almost the story of a terrorist  attack that we have heard so much about in these last day.  The Roman official, Pontius Pilate, had sent troops into the Temple in Jerusalem to brutally wipe out a small group of Galilean pilgrims who had gone down to Jerusalem, ‘mingling their blood with their sacrifices’, it has some dreadful similiarities to the Mosque attacks.

He used another and spoke of the tragedy where eighteen people had been crushed to death when a tower in the city’s old wall had suddenly collapsed on top of them.

Hearing of these calamities, Jesus asked: “why did these dreadful things occur?” Was it because the people who lost their lives were terrible sinners, worse than other people?

There was a view among Jews, which is not unknown among believers even today, that disasters are a punishment from God for sinful behaviour. That is not so.

When Jesus commented on the sudden massacre in the temple and the accidental crushing to death of people by the collapsing tower, he was making it clear that this was not because of their sins……. that was not the point. He was saying was that the victims of the atrocity in the Temple and the disaster of the tower’s collapse meant they had all died suddenly and without having the opportunity to repent and make their peace with God. I am not saying that about the people in the Mosques.

To help his listeners Jesus told a parable  … The owner of a garden had a fig tree, but year after year he never found any fruit. In frustration and exasperation the owner told the gardener to cut the tree down: it wasn’t bearing fruit, it was taking up good space. But the gardener asked his boss to give the tree one more year …… ‘If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’. In other words, the gardener said, “give it one more chance.”

It’s the same with God, God never gets tired of giving us another chance. This is about God’s patience with us.

God’s patience with us is God’s decision to show us respect, and allow us ‘space and time’ to develop and grow. There is no limit to God’s patience with each of us. There is no limit to God’s patience, but there is to the space and time we have to keep turning back and focussing on God. There are endless opportunities for us to profit from God’s patience;

When this Gospel was written it was to help and encourage believers who might have sinned seriously to turn back to the Lord and be reconciled with the community in preparation for Easter; that’s the purpose in Jesus’s saying ‘repent or perish’.

So, today we review our Lenten programme, and think about how we have been able to keep up with whatever prayer, penance or good works we decided on for Lent. If we have slipped, for whatever reason, there is nothing to prevent us from starting now, starting again.

The prayer for today is highly appropriate too: ‘Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.’  Any of us can be disappointed with our weaknesses, we have to learn to be patient with ourselves too.

Maybe at this stage of Lent – halfway through- we might have to admit that this Lent is not all we had hoped for.  On Ash Wednesday, we intended to make some changes in our lives, now we might be disappointed in ourselves.

Jesus “gets” us, understands our hearts and knows that our instinct is to give up when the tree bears no fruit.  Today we learn not to give up  the hope that we can be better.

A good question to ask God is, “What is it you want to give me this Lent?”    Such a question could lead to heart to heart conversation with God …..

What is it you desire to free in my heart so I can love better?
How can I be more loving to my family? 
Where can I be a peacemaker with my children, with others?
How do you want to soften my heart from being harsh with others to being more loving – in the way you have loved me?
How can I be less judgmental and see others as you see them?
What would it cost me to slow down my life so I can listen to you more deeply?

When I fast, it can focus my attention more clearly on Jesus and how he wants to heal my heart.

Lent is what Pope Francis calls, “a journey of preparation, preparation to know God the gift of God’s patience and mercy.