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Third Sunday of Lent

March 3, 2013

Reflection by Jane Regan, Ph.D.

Opening:  What importance do the words “repent” or “repentance” have for you? What feelings or thoughts do they provoke?  How would you define those terms? How are they meaningful in your own life?

Gospel: Read the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent through slowly a couple of time, thinking about these questions.

  • What image from the Gospel story stands out for you?
  • What verse or verses are important to you?  Which ones invite you to further reflection?

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down."

Lk 13:1-9

Reflection:  The call to repentance – a central theme of Lent – runs through the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Lent.  In the first half of the Gospel reading, Jesus challenges those who might wish to put the need for repentance elsewhere; he calls each of his hearers to repent or perish.  The situation of the fig tree is similar: it has failed to produce figs and so the owner wants to cut it down. The gardener appeals to the owner to give it one more chance, recognizing that if it doesn’t bear fruit the following year it will perish. 

The story of the fig tree gives us one way of thinking about what the call to repentance is about.    The fig tree failed to do the one thing the fig tree was created to do: grow figs.  To avoid being cut down it needs to “repent” of this failure, it needs to change its behavior and produce figs.  It needs to live into its potential and calling; it needs to become “right sized.”

To be right sized is to be and do what we are called and created to be and do: to live our lives in relationship with God and to perceive ourselves and those around us in light of that relationship. The call to repent invites us to examine our lives with humility and with confidence in God’s forgiveness.  We look at our lives in light of our relationship with God and the way that it comes to expression in our relationship with ourselves and others.   Repentance calls us to recognize those times and contexts in which we have failed to be what we are called and created to be and then to strive to change.

The gardener cultivated the ground around the fig tree and fertilized it, strengthening the tree that it might grow figs.  We, too, can cultivate our capacity for repentance through engaging in the key practices of Lent – prayer, fasting and alms giving.  Additionally, by participating in the Eucharist and the sacrament on Reconciliation we enhance our ability to see ourselves clearly and to become “right sized” in our relationship with God and others.

Lived faith:  So, how might reflection on this week’s Gospel reading invite you to attend with more care to the call to repentance in your life? What practices can you put in place this week to enhance your ability to recognize areas in your life in need of repentance, in need of being made “right sized” in light of your relationship with God?

Take time during this third week of Lent to cultivate your openness and responsiveness to the call to repentance.

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