The Gospel passage for this second Sunday of Lent focuses upon the parable of the fig tree that had borne no fruit but was allowed to remain another year so that it might produce a harvest. Like all of our Lord’s parables, the metaphor for the fig tree would have been especially meaningful for His hearers, even as it teaches us important lessons about the time each of us is given in this life to become saints.
The first lesson that can be culled from this parable is that those who only take and don’t give eventually collapse upon themselves and die. The fig tree drew the ire of the person who planted it when he noticed that it had not borne fruit but only exhausted the soil. The same can be true of those who do not bear fruit for the kingdom of God because they only take away from it but do not invest of themselves in the kingdom. Each of us is indebted to God for our lives. None of us willed ourselves into existence. No one ever earned the love that they received in childhood or a chance to live in a Judeo-Christian culture. We all enter into life as debtors and each of us is charged with the task of leaving this world better than we found it when we depart for the next life.
The second lesson that the fig tree teaches us is that God is willing to give us another chance to become holier. Each day is a gift from God. We can use it to advance His kingdom or we can use it merely for our own purposes. Among the sacraments, the sacrament of penance is sometimes referred to as second or third or fourth baptism insofar as it cleanses us from the guilt of our sins. Time and time again, God beckons us to repentance. His generosity is immense.
Finally, the parable of the fig tree teaches us that while God’s generosity is immense, it is not infinite, insofar as God will call us all to an accounting of our lives. God’s mercy is always tempered by His justice. Both His mercy and justice are held in dynamic tension, yet never contradict one another. At a certain point, our chances to repent are exhausted and each of us will have to answer for our lives. It is not as if God shuts us out — we are responsible for our own downfall, should we reject His invitation to repent with contrite hearts. May we never face that sorry predicament.
As the Lenten season draws on, may each of us sense the urgency for conversion that this parable communicates to us. May we be inspired and motivated by the Lord’s expectation that we all bear fruit for His kingdom, each according to his state of life and capacity. And while we depend on God’s mercy to save us, may we never forget that while we live in His mercy in this life, we will live under His justice in the next.