In Lent we are reminded that the Gospel is for the most part a real challenge rather than a comfort. We need to really take on board what the challenge is. Today’s gospel is no exception. It is in part a challenge to be very careful about the judgements we make about the misfortunes of others. When disasters happen we must not get into the mentality of saying, “they deserved it for they must have been sinful and it is God’s punishment”. NO, No, NO! These remarks about two disasters that occurred within the life time of Our Lord must be seen in the light of other challenges to this tendency to self-righteousness such as “Judge not that you be not judged” and “take the beam out of your own eye before you deal with the splinter in the eye of your neighbor”.
The challenge is simple, take care of your own faults and failings. Alongside that is the need to be wary of ridiculous things that can be said, such as a couple of years ago a bishop in England suggested that the floods in the country side that were happening at the time were God’s revenge for countenancing gay marriage! This is nonsense. What kind of God would we believe in if we thought He in his infinite wisdom and mercy were to operate like that? No, No, NO ! Our God is the god of “all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in mercy” as we heard on Ash Wednesday at the start of Lent.
The second half of the Gospel is about this infinitely more compassionate response. It is a disaster for a farmer or orchardman to have planted trees or fruit bushes that come up blind and barren of fruit. The land has to be productive and sometimes we do have to rip out and start again. But often patience is required a “long-eye” is needed as an old friend of mine used to say. The fruit tree needs to be tended or pruned and fed over time. This is Christ’s approach with us “Father-like he tends and spares us well our feeble frame he knows, in his hands he gently bears us…” as we sing in a well-known hymn based on Ps 130.
So our challenge today is not to be judgmental about others but to show patient mercy and enjoy the fruits of faith when they do appear. Christ like the woods man is prepared to give one if not many more chances.
God bless you, your families, and the week ahead.
Fr. Aidan Peter, CJ