Brothers and sisters, in this third Sunday of Lent we are all urged to repentance and to bear fruit. But we may ask, how might we do this? What might be the best way to take to a true repentance? If you went around the Philippines during Holy week you will see many different ways people would take this message of repentance and penance to heart. Of course, there would be a long queue going to the confessionals. Some people walked about the streets lashing or whipping themselves. In Cebu for instance, starting at Midday in Good Friday, most of the radio stations and televisions would hook up to the happening in the Cathedral wherein Priests, and bishops would lead people in the reflection on the seven last ‘words’ of Jesus (e.g. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing, Today you will be with me in paradise, etc.) But some people too would go to the extreme. They would have themselves really and actually crucified, to somehow follow exactly what Jesus has shown them. The only difference is that they wouldn’t die, and if they would die in the process I wonder if they would rise from the dead on the third day too.
However, our gospel today tells us the way to take to a true repentance. In fact, the gospel today tells us of two ways. First, is that we stopped comparing ourselves with others. It means we stop being self-righteous and self-centred to the expense of neglecting the other people. It also means we stop thinking that we are better than other people. In our gospel Jesus had to assure his disciples that the people who have been slaughtered by Pilate and those who are killed in a building accident in Siloam were not more sinful than they are. For Jesus it is not a question of who is more sinful and who is saintly. For him, we are all sinners and we need repentance.
The second way to take repentance to heart is to endeavour to become fruitful in our lives and it has to be a good fruit. It must not be a fruit that poisons others, kills others, puts people off, or that which takes advantage of other people. Bearing fruit is a real sign of repentance. And repentance must be from within us, from our hearts. If we really have a truly repentant heart it expresses in our actions. It shows itself by the fruit we bear.
So the question now: How can we bear fruit? Based on our Readings of today, we can bear fruit in three ways. First, listening to the voice of God calling us to conversion-and acting on it. ‘Moses’ burning bush ‘take off your shoes’ (security, grounding, protection). This means letting go of our security and let God take over.
Second, appreciating the bountiful graces of God and not taking God’s gifts for granted. St Paul would remind the Christian community in Corinth of this. Using the history of the Israelites in their journey through the desert, St Paul urged the early Church to accept the grace of God with open heart- to accept Christ in our hearts. For Paul, complaining is not helping us to grow in repentance. Instead it would slowly create in us an attitude of negativity towards ourselves, towards others and even towards God. But we do complain at times. We can’t help this. The Israelites always complained about many things towards Moses and towards God (e.g. Egyptians might overtake and kill them, food (manna & quail), water, Moses taking time on the mountain- they couldn’t wait so they made golden calf and worshipped it). But God is patient. He put up with them. He always puts up with us too. And this would lead us to a third way to repentance- that is to allow God and other people help us as we grow so that we may bear fruit. This is what the gardener does. He tends the fig tree, waters it, nurtures it. He gives it a chance, another chance, one more chance. So also God does for us. So to grow up and bear fruit we need help from the outside too. But if we don’t take the nourishment from the outside, the love and care from others around us, we would remain barren and fruitless.
So as we continue our celebration today, we pray that we take our resolve to repentance to heart and take it on as a serious, urgent and as a top priority especially in this time of Lent. Amen.