Readings Ex 3:1-8,13-15; 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9
Theme A merciful God has given us all a second chance. Let us respond with gratitude and renewed dedication.
The Dallas Morning News carried a photo of some prisoners on a work-release program. They were restoring a condemned house on the city’s west side. Several days later one of the prisoners wrote the editor, saying: “Thank you for the coverage....
The last time my name and photograph were printed in a newspaper took place the day I was sentenced....
So, it was a real joy to see my picture in your paper doing something good.... “When I entered prison 18 months ago, I was a lot like the house we just remodeled....But God took charge of my life and has made me a new creation in Christ.”
We could hardly find a better illustration of the point Jesus is making in today’s gospel.
The first half of the gospel tells about two groups of people who are killed by recent tragedies in Jerusalem. Jesus ends his reference to these tragedies by saying to his hearers, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
The second half of the gospel tells about a fig tree that was planted inside a vineyard. A vineyard was an ideal place for fig trees to grow.
If a fig tree couldn’t grow there, it couldn’t grow anywhere. A fig tree takes three years to mature. If it doesn’t bear fruit in that time, it probably won’t bear it at all. This explains why the owner of the vineyard instructed his gardener to cut the tree down.
And so it is remarkable that instead of cutting the tree down, the gardener begs the owner to give it a second chance. “Leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it,” he says.
Jesus intended his parables for two groups of people.
First, Jesus meant them for the instruction of the people of his time.
Second, he meant them for the instruction of people for all times. The group of people for whom Jesus told today’s parable is, of course, the people of Israel. Jesus tells them that God gave them a choice place in his plan and took special care of them. But they didn’t bear fruit. Jesus tells them further that in spite of this failure, God will be patient with them a little longer. He will give them a second chance, like the fig tree.
The wider group of people for whom Jesus told this parable includes all of us here today.
Jesus’ parable also applies to us. We are like Israel. God has given us a choice place in his plan, and he has taken special care of us. God expects us to bear fruit. If we don’t, then, like Israel, God will give us a genuine opportunity to repent.
If we don’t repent, then, like Israel, we will perish.
This brings us back to our opening story. Both the prisoner and the house illustrate the point of Jesus’ parable. Both were given a second chance.
The house was condemned by the city. It was scheduled to be torn down. But someone persuaded the officials to give it a second chance. “Let the prisoners work on it,” they said.
“If they can make it a useful property again, then we won’t tear it down.”
The prisoner himself was also condemned. He was considered unfit for society. He was put behind bars. Although society gave up on him, Jesus didn’t. Jesus gave him a second chance.
Like the gardener in today’s gospel, Jesus watered and cared for his spirit. The man responded and became a new creation.
All of us can relate to that story. At one point in our lives,
many of us here were like the fig tree, the house, and the prisoner.
We too were in danger of being rejected as useless. But in his mercy, God took pity on us. Like the house, the prisoner, and the fig tree, we were given another chance.
Today’s gospel, therefore, calls forth from us deep gratitude to God
for the second chance he has given us. It also calls forth a deep determination to make the most of our second chance.
And so we say to Jesus, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for our second chance. Help us make the most of it. Help us carry out your plan for us.
Help us do this especially during these remaining weeks of Lent.”
Let’s close with a poem.
It’s about an old violin which, like us, was given a second chance.
It’s yet another image of your story and my story and God’s love for us.
I hope the poem will touch your hearts and move you to celebrate today’s Eucharist with more than ordinary gratitude and love.
“It was battered and scarred and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin.
But he held it up with a smile.
‘What am I bid, good folks?’ he cried.
‘Who’ll start the bidding for me?
A dollar, a dollar, then two, only two?
Two dollars and who’ll make it three?
“‘Three dollars once and three dollars twice, And going for three, but no!’
From the room far back a gray-haired man Came forward and picked up the bow.
And wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening the loosened strings He played a melody pure and sweet,
Sweet as an angel sings.
“The music ceased and the auctioneer
In a voice that was quiet and low Said,
‘What am I bid for the old violin?’
And he held it up with the bow.
‘A thousand dollars and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand and who’ll make it three?
Three thousand once, three thousand twice And going and gone!’ said he.
“The people cheered but some of them cried,
‘We don’t quite understand.
What changed its worth?’
Quick came the reply: ‘The touch of the master’s hand.’
And many a man with life out of tune
And battered and scarred with sin Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, Much like the old violin.
“A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He’s going once, he’s going twice,
He’s going and almost gone.
But the Master comes and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of the soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.”