Sunday, February 28, 2016

Loving Mercy

(Lent is a great opportunity to grow our contemplative non-violent lives - even when we don't think we have one! I intend to use my blog to reflect on the invitation from God to live more deeply into a contemplative non-violent life which I want to respond to more and more. The plan is to write a reflection on Ash Wednesday, each Sunday of Lent and during Holy Week. I invite you to follow if you wish. With each entry I will suggest one prayer practice and one action that I will engage in and offer to you as a possibility. Blessings for a holy Lent.)

This Sunday, Lent III, we simply cannot ignore the Gospel lesson that is proclaimed at today's Eucharist. It is one of those lessons that is difficult to hear and sometimes leads others to give Christianity a bad rap. But I think it is one of the most important lessons to hear, especially during Lent, and reminds me of the admonition to repentance in the Invitation to a Holy Lent. So, let's start by reading the text (Luke 13:1-9) again:

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

So, Jesus is in a mood, right? Well, yes - but it is not the mood that people associate with the first half of the reading. That part where he seems to be sending loads of folks to hell. No, Jesus is the gardener. God is the gardener. What Jesus wants to give is the ultimate in loving mercy - another chance. Please, he seems to be saying, just one more chance to care for the fig tree, to place perhaps some better manure around it to give it that second, third, fourth chance. Just a little more love and I know it will be fruitful. This is, the essence of non-violence. Knowing that deep down we all have fruit to bear and that some simply need more time than others to produce. 

And that is what repentance is all about and is at the heart of a contemplative life. The idea of repentance is that we realize that something - or many things - is not right with our lives. We realize that we do not stand in right relationship with God, with others, perhaps even with ourselves. Repentance comes from that self-examination I wrote about two weeks ago, and is simply "to turn around" in order to face God again. 

You see, when we are somehow out of right relationship with God, with others, with ourselves, we have turned our faces away from God and all God requires is that we turn back again and face God. God is always waiting to give us another chance - to wait just a little bit longer for our fruit to bloom. And that opportunity begins when we look God in the face. That is the beginning or new beginning of relationship. We look God in the face because what God desires more than anything is a true relationship. We do not have relationships with people to whom we never look in the face. 

Now, if we wish to create for ourselves a living hell here in this life, or perhaps in the next, we can choose to simply never turn around. We can continue to face away from God and suffer the consequences -  not of God's wrath ..- but rather of our own exiling of ourselves from God's love. Hell is the absence of God's love. But it is never God who chooses to absent Godself from us, it is only we who sometimes do it.

But no matter how long we absent ourselves from God's love and no matter how extreme that absenting may have been, Jesus is still waiting by the fig tree with wide open, loving arms, ready to take us back - even help us to finish that turning around toward the face of God. Mercy is God's call to us. God continually cries out to us - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy - let me show you my Mercy. 

May it be so.

Suggestions for this week:

Prayer: A few weeks back we spoke of self-examination. Hopefully armed with whatever information you may have gleaned from prayer practice, let us ask God to help us continue to turn toward God, to ask for God's mercy and to help us to see where we might be in need of God's mercy.

Action: Practice the same kind of mercy that God offers you to just one person this week. A second, third or even fourth chance is a blessing of mercy that we all need from time to time.

Blessings for a Holy Lent.

Peace be upon you.

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