Today, in Mercy, our Gospel takes on some difficult themes.
Jesus gives a parable which, at first, appears to say, “Get your act together fast, or God might zap you.” From Jesus’s words, we can assume that some public disasters have recently occurred. The gathered crowd are unnerved by these events.
Jesus uses that nervousness to talk about repentance. He tells the people that tragedy can make us wake up to the fact that life is fragile and fleeting. That awareness should make us want to use our time on earth well, to give glory to God.
The repentance Jesus encourages is not just a contrition, or turning from sin. It is an opening of the soul’s eyes to see our lives and circumstances as God sees them.
Is God going to zap us if we don’t have that kind of repentance? No.
With the parable of the fruitless fig tree, Jesus assures us that God is with us, giving us every grace and opportunity to bear spiritual fruit. God is patient and nurturing. But, in every human life, there is a limit to the time we have to respond.
Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Apostle Bartholomew, thought by some to be the same man as our Gospel’s Nathaniel. This Nathaniel has been my prayer companion since 1964 when I received his name at my Religious Reception.
At first we were surface friends. I imagined what he might have been doing under the fig tree. I was a little shocked at his easy banter with Jesus. I thought about his skepticism, trying to discern how it could eventually yield his sanctity. I wondered if he ever achieved that vision of “angels of God ascending and descending ...”
But as the years passed, and I prayed beside him more often, we came to understand each other better. Nathaniel began to teach me about Jesus and, with that, Jesus began to teach me through Nathaniel.
It was all about being honest with God and opening my perspective to God’s vision.
You see, we are all under various “fig trees” at points in our lives, those small but confining perimeters of shadow which veil God. Sometimes the shadow consists of an event or experience that makes us says, “How can God possibly be in this?” Sometimes the shadow comes from all the obstacles we have placed in Light’s way. Sometimes it is simply the waning energy required by faith’s long journey.
Whatever its source, the shadow captures us in its incarcerating grasp, isolating us from the outrageous hope and possibility of God awaiting us in every circumstance.
Then a voice – our particular “Philip” – suggests we just step away from the umbra.A person, a book, a memory, a prayerful insight – A GRACE – invites us to “Come and see” more deeply, to let go of all that we thought secured us, to yield to hope, trust, and an incredible new vision.
It is an irreversible moment of unconditional love. It is the moment we make our own proclamation, not unlike Nathaniel’s:
Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.
Nathaniel’s guileless, faith-filled surrender to Jesus opens the way for his transformation. Jesus tells him, “You will see greater things…”. In other words,
God is so much bigger than you think at this moment.
Open your heart and soul to that Infinity!
Your life in Christ is all about going deeper,
(as the Angel invites us in our first reading from Revelation).
We don’t hear much about Nathaniel after that day. Like many of the other Apostles, he lived out his ministry beyond written records. But we can trust that this man “without duplicity” deepened in his honest dialogue with the God he met and embraced on that amazing Judean afternoon.
Today, in Mercy, our readings are not reassuring. They basically tell us that it’s a tough world out there, and it might get us – body and/or soul. They tell us to straighten up and live right before it’s too late!
I don’t really like the “in your face” readings, but they certainly are clear and effective. Just picture that poor fig tree, trying like crazy – for three years – to bear fruit! I know that I’ve been trying my whole life to overcomes some of my fruitlessness. I certainly hope God continues to be patient with me!
Nevertheless, the message of today’s Gospel is clear. Don’t take that patience for granted.Repent of any small godlessness you’re clinging to.
Forgive the recent and long ago hurts you’ve locked up inside.
Make amends for any meannesses you can remember.
“Show and Tell” your love to the people who love you.
Show and Tell your blessing to the people who don’t.