3rd Sunday Lent C
Sunday 20th March 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
While he was teaching them, some people arrived and told them how Pilate had taken the blood of some Galileans and mixed it with the sacrifices they had offered! Jesus responded by saying, ‘Are you presuming that these Galileans were worse people than any other Galileans because they suffered that way? I’m telling you seriously, no, they were not. But unless you repent, you too could perish like that. Or how about those eighteen that the tower at Siloam fell on and killed. Are you presuming that they were greater sinners than the other people living in Jerusalem? I’m telling you seriously, no, they were not. But unless you repent, you too could perish like that.’
He then told this parable. ‘A man had a fig tree that he had planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it but he found none so he said to the vineyardist, “Look, I’ve been coming to this tree looking for fruit for three years and I haven’t found any. Cut it down – why should it take up the ground?” But the man replied saying, “Leave it – just for another year. I will dig around it and manure it. It may bear fruit next year. If it doesn’t, cut it down then.”’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 102:1-4, 6-8, 11
My soul, bless God!
Everything within me bless his holy name.
My soul, bless God,
never forgetting his blessings:
God, who forgives your iniquities,
who heals all your illness,
who saves you from ruin,
crowning you with love and compassion.
God does righteousness
giving judgements for the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to Israel’s children.
God is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, rich in mercy.
As high as heaven is above earth
so great is his mercy to those who fear him.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, the presence of evil in our world is daunting. May our horror of such not blind us to your love but rather be an impetus for us to work to allow your grace and love to shine through all that we say or do. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel is unique to Luke. It occurs at the end of an extended teaching by Jesus on being prepared for his coming and being able to read the signs of the times. Just then a group arrive with a piece of current news, truly a horror story, and the way it is told, it sounds like an actual incident. In it, we see how Jesus used events to teach his message.
The group have come saying that Pilate has taken the blood of some Galileans, that he has had executed, and mixed it with sacrifices that the group had offered. This is horrific. Not only blasphemous, it is also a desecration of their bodies. One senses that the people are waiting for Jesus’ explanation of such evil behaviour. He doesn’t give one. Indeed, is there such an explanation possible? But Jesus does recognise that this behaviour exists in our world. How are we to live with it? We are to use the horror we have at such events to stir up ourselves to be conscious of the power that good and evil have in our lives.
The parable shows how we are to apply this understanding to our lives. Essentially the fig tree had been planted but neglected. The normal care that should have been given to a fruit-bearing tree had not been given. Digging round and manuring are hard work and should have been done regularly to ensure that the tree had sufficient nutrients to bear fruit. The disciple of Jesus cannot expect to just drift into the Kingdom of God without doing the appropriate work to allow him or herself to grow and flourish. Just bearing the name of Jesus is not enough – they must bear fruit.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
It is strange – this parable is known as the parable of the fig tree – and the tree is going to be cut down because it has not borne fruit but the story begs the question: what or rather who is at fault? Obviously the vine dresser, who after 3 years of neglect finally offers to do the job he should have been doing all along! Maybe he had been preoccupied with his petunias, maybe he was lazy but he certainly was neglectful. Digging round and manuring is not pleasant work – one is hard, the other smelly, but both are necessary. This parable highlights an aspect of the questioning that had just preceded it. We are prone to put our energies and interests into areas that are not central for our lives. In other words, we evade our responsibilities.
Amongst the myriad of demands that we all have on us, what are we supposed to do? Firstly, to foster the primary relationships of our lives. Most of us do not have to think hard to know what they are: wife, husband, parent, child, member of community and child of God. But how often do we actually assess how realistically we are fulfilling our calling? We do not drift into the Kingdom of God. Jesus challenges us in this parable to make an assessment of our lives. We need to study and judge what we are doing and see if we really are doing the ‘digging and manuring’ that we need. This does not mean we are to be swamped by others’ demands. Rather we need to use our heads and our hearts both in prayer, to determine how we can allow the flow of God’s grace to bear fruit in our lives.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Well, this is the closest we get to someone asking Jesus the question so many in our time want the answer to: why do the innocent suffer? The disciples asked: were these people innocent? which amounts pretty much to our question. If I had been there my breath would have stopped, my hearing would have focussed acutely and….I would have howled at the answer. Jesus, Jesus does not answer the question. At least not in the way I want, nor in the way most people, who agonise over this question, want. If ever there was a chance for a clear cut answer that would put paid to the questions about the goodness of God, this was it…except that Jesus didn’t take it!
Look what he did in this conversation. They asked about ‘them’. He said, ‘Look to yourselves. Use their suffering as an incentive to actively turn away from evil and pursue goodness in your lives.’ That certainly isn’t the answer I want but maybe it is the answer I need. When we agonise over the pain of the innocent, it is a short step to presuming that we are amongst them and that our pain is undeserved. Maybe it is, but then maybe it isn’t. If we are not truly examining our consciences and our actions, we could be doing wrong unthinkingly, and worrying over other people is one way to elude our own responsibilities.
That being said, we also need to look at what Jesus did at the end of his life. One thing the New Testament is clear about, Jesus was innocent. Tempted terribly, yes, but innocent. If anyone didn’t deserve to suffer it was him. Yet he did. Jesus’ answer to the suffering of the innocent was to share in that suffering. That is the answer he gives to our awful question but does it make any sense? Not until we follow in his footsteps and, in extending ourselves in loving care of our brothers and sisters, suffer in some innocent way that he did. The answer to our question lies not in our head but in our experience. It is not given to the mind but rather to the heart and when we have discovered it in some small way we will find we have entered into the mystery of God.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
- Medieval Illustration of the Parable of the Fig Tree (click red text)
- James Tissot Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (click red text)
- Harold Copping, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (click red text)
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on the way being concerned for what happens in the wider world, over which we have no influence, can actually distract us from recognising the times and places where we can make a change for the better. In the small things of life, try to make a difference.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Bring before God your issues with the presence of evil in our world. As you experience your confusion and horror, do you feel that it closes you down? Does it lessen your sense of hope and belief in God’s goodness?
Now listen to Jesus’ words calling you to repentance. Taking the energy you would use being disturbed about other people, can you look at your own life and see where God may be calling you. What practical, if only small ways, could you live that in the coming week?
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- Bring forth the Kingdom by Marty Haugen
- Micah’s Theme by Mary Mc Gann RSCJ
- O Lord you search me and you know me by Bernadette Farrell