Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent
By Rev. Julie Jane Capel
Lectionary reading for 3/20/2022: Psalm 63:1-8 ; Isaiah 55:1-9 ; 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Selected passage for reflection: Luke 13:1-9
Luke 13:1-3, 6-9 (NIV)
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“’Sir,” the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! In not, then cut it down.’”
A text that is often ignored due to asking thorny questions. Such as: Why are personal and global tragedies allowed to occur? And who is responsible? Why did this person get long Covid and not their partner? Are cracks in life caused chiefly because this person is more corrupt compared to their counterparts? Is infertility a sign of infidelity to God? Is singleness a sign of sin? Is lack of equal pay for POC and women the result of not enough effort? Is famine in post-colonial nations the mark of poor farming? Is a dying church an indictment on the current members?
Jesus gave us a twofer by pairing these two portions of the passage together. First, he orients the question to point out that if it was a matter of sin we would all be dead. Only occasionally is causation an integrous conclusion.
Instead, those who are alive are called to steward that gift of life with intention! With purpose established in compassion, mercy and justice. With tenacity rooted in love.
Second, living with intention should bear fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 fleshes out the meaning: But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (NLT) It is at this point many Christians are conditioned, in-lived-out-life theology, to believe that the parable will end with verse seven. Enter the super sneaky prosperity gospel. Whereby we are habituated to think: figs growing from our orchards must prove our blessedness that originates from our devotion. Additionally, no fruit equals a lack of faithfulness.
However, the Bible tells us something totally different. No matter how good we are, we are not entitled to abundance from our branches. In this parable, Jesus’ subversive message is that those people (ourselves included) who are not producing fruit will receive special attention and added fertilizer from our Lord.
It is precisely when our intentions are not fruitful that nourishment is most needed. When our compassion, mercy and justice muscle has atrophied. When our tenacity is tied to earthy goals instead of heavenly grace.
Favored care is granted to this fig tree precisely because it was not yet all that it was meant to be. Similarly, when our fruit count is low, may we be people who allow God to dig around in our lives and put favored fertilizer around our roots. Not due to our sinlessness or because we are so good – but because of God’s grace and desire for us to be all that we were created to be.
Pictured is my painting: Tenacity. In March of 2021, I found these two plants growing in the BBQ grate in a public park divested of resources. During the year I have looked at this piece of artwork and thought of the persistence it took to live among the inert, dead and thorns. I cannot help but think of what would happen if these tenacious plants were properly planted and tended to in fertilized soil.
If you are currently living in the grate – good job at staying alive! My prayer for you is that you say yes to nourishment in needed places. If your branches feel bare – my prayer for you is that you say yes to nourishment in needed places. If you are thriving with intention, purpose and tenacity – my prayer for you is that you will allow God to help you lovingly nourish others in their needed places. That the fruits of the Spirit you are bearing, by God’s grace, will be life-giving to all who encounter you.
Jesus, please nourish us – as individuals and as a community – in our places of needs. Help us to be intentional and tenacious in stewarding the gifts of life we have been given. We thank you for the opportunity to bear fruit for your glory. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Julie Jane Capel is an ordained Covenant pastor, preacher, international impressionist painter and community organizer. In Chicago, Julie was a senior pastor, trauma chaplain, and co-creator of Urban Reformers - a non-profit dedicated to faith and proximate justice. She finished as a Transitional Pastor in Virginia. Now focusing her painting career and creating conference resources for Living Legacy congregations. @pastorjuliejane