Monday morning in the Preacher's Study
First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (Lent 3C)
Many of us feel impatient with Lent. We’re not used to fasting, not used to almsgiving, not used to waiting for what we want. So even when we try these things, we want them to be over quickly. It seems so . . . unproductive. We know what’s coming, “so let’s get to the good part”. Let’s get to the Easter celebrations, the baptisms, and all the feasting that rightly belongs in Christian life.
Others enjoy Lent (and Advent) more than any other season. They know what’s coming, and they enjoy waiting for it. No cutting to the chase, they’d rather say, “let’s give ourselves time for the grace of it all to sink in!” It gives them life.
In some ways, we are all like that fig tree that Jesus talks about in the gospel for Lent 3 this year. In every life there is some deadness, but in the worst times we look exactly like that tree. Totally dead. Unproductive. Ready to be cut down. Pilate no longer rules, but there are others who willingly take his place in cutting others down and shedding the blood of “offenders”. There are other towers that can fall on people and kill them. Sometimes it gets so bad, so hopeless, that people are ready to cut themselves down.
But Jesus seems to want all of us to see that there is a Gardener who gets to have the last say. The same Gardener of Eden. The same Gardener of Gethsemane. The same one who speaks outside the Empty Tomb—he who is “mistaken” for the . . . gardener. There is a hand that seeks to reach out and stop the axe, stop the killing, stop everything that leads to death.
Jesus told them a parable about an orchard owner who was frustrated by a barren fig tree and ordered the gardener to cut the tree down. "Sir," pleads the gardener, "let’s nurture it, care for it and give it one more year."
That is a clue to what is coming. It is a clue to the time we currently inhabit. A clue to what the in-breaking reign of God looks like. In the midst of all that is brutal, there is this merciful gesture that refuses to give up on the barren and the broken, that beautiful voice that says, "Let’s give this one more year.” Let’s give this one more year. It could be the year for figs.
Todd Townshend is Associate Professor of Contextual Theology and Director of Field Education at Huron University College, London, Ontario. He serves as editor of OPEN, the journal of APLM.