In Saint Paul’s first letter
to the Church at Corinth, he compares the Christian Life to an athletic
contest by asking, “Do you not know that in a race all
runners compete, but only one receives the prize?”
And then Paul observes, “They do it to receive a perishable
wreath, but we an imperishable.” . . .
The reward for a Life in Christ lived well and faithfully; . . . the
reward for a Life in Christ which is not distracted by worldly
comforts, . . . bodily indulgences, . . . or devilish lies; . . . the
reward for a Life in Christ which is lived with athletic simplicity and
obedience to the commandments and counsels of God; . . . the reward for
a Life in Christ lived well and faithfully, Saint Paul implies, . . .
is crowned with everlasting felicity; . . . it is a life that is
angelic and participates in the eternal satisfactions of
Heaven. . . . But then Paul writes as you have heard
today: . . . “I want you to know, brethren, that
our spiritual fathers, that blessed nation of Israel; . . . our
spiritual fathers were all as good as baptized (just as we are),
because they had the Presence of God in the cloud that led them and
protected them; . . . they all participated in the miracle that parted
the Red Sea so that they all passed through the waters, escaping death
and entering life; . . . they all ate the same supernatural bread which
angels eat, and they all drank from the supernatural Rock from which
living water flowed when it was struck by Moses.” .
. . Our spiritual fathers were all as good as baptized (just as we
are), . . . and yet, . . . in spite of all this, . . . “with
most of them God was not pleased,” Saint Paul writes; . . .
most of them did not run successfully, . . . nor did they receive the
prize God promised as reward for their successful running. .
. . “And so
Paul concludes, “let any one [of you] who thinks
stands take heed lest he fall.”
Saint Paul is cautioning the Christians
at Corinth against becoming careless in their regard for God which
shows up in the character of their lives; . . . Saint Paul is
cautioning the Christians at Corinth against becoming careless in their
running to attain the prize that is the crown which adorns a sacred
life. . . . Jesus
offers us the same advice this morning as well.
We find Jesus, today, (in the section of
Saint Luke’s Gospel which precedes the appointed reading); .
. . we find Jesus, today, telling His listeners that they must live
holy lives so as to be prepared at any moment to give an account of
themselves to God at His final judgement as to who shall perish and who
shall have life. “As you go with your accuser
before the magistrate,” Jesus says, “make an effort
to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the
judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in
prison.” . . . And there is a jovial remark from
someone in the crowd that the advice comes too late for some Galileans
Pilate has executed. . . . And Jesus says He is not talking
about the death which must come to us all in this life; . . . rather,
Jesus says, He is talking about God’s judgement
. . .
about the life He gives each of us. You see, Jesus says, God
is like a man who “had a fig tree planted in his vineyard;
and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.” .
. . God, the Father, strolls through this His vineyard, Jesus says; . .
. God, the Father, strolls through this His vineyard to see if each of
us are bearing fruit which is the image of His Incarnate Son; . . . to
see if we are thankful for our daily bread; . . . to see if
you’re as generous toward others as He has been toward
you. God, the Father, strolls through His vineyard looking to
see if you regularly and faithfully forgive what people owe to you . .
. as He has forgiven your indebtedness to Him. God, the
Father, strolls through His vineyard looking to see if you remember
each day that you are a doer of His will and an expression of His love
as well as a receiver of His protection and graces; . . . to see if you
will give a cup of living water to one of His little ones who is
perishing. God, the Father, strolls through His vineyard
looking to see if you are not simply using up His graces . . . but
yielding, by stages, the fruits of His holiness. . . . But,
behold, Jesus says, . . . there are fig trees in the vineyard of God,
the Father, who can become the epitome of horticultural hopelessness; .
. . who can be barren; . . . who can be perfectly alive but not
yield fruit; . .
. who can be barren of fruit not only for one
year, . . . but
can be barren for three
Whatever is wrong with the tree in Christ’s parable, . . . it
is hopelessly so.
And Christ’s point in telling
us this is that God’s perfect judgement doesn’t cut
down the souls that are deformed
. . . God’s perfect judgement doesn’t cut down
souls that are particularly
idolatrous or immoral or rebellious or sullen. That leafy fig
tree Jesus describes; . . . that leafy fig tree represents the
carelessness of a human life that is perfectly innocent of any other
offense than that it has become too familiar and too comfortable in its
thoughts of God; . . . a human life that has forgotten its awe and fear
of the Lord God Almighty, . . . or, even worse, has misplaced its awe
and fear so that they reside someplace else; . . . so that they are
focused on something that is perishing and cannot give life.
That leafy fig tree in Christ’s parable represents a human
life that looks
quite attractive, . . . but lacks the nourishment which permits it to
blossom and fruit and impart life which comes from the seed contained
in its fruit. . . . Of such a one as this, the perfect
judgement of God says, “Cut it down; why should it use up the
ground; . . . why should it use up my graces?”
You don’t have to be particularly
to earn damnation, Jesus says; . . . all you have to do is to be
careless. . . . But in Jesus we have an advocate, . . .
because He continues His parable by saying that,
[the vinedresser] answered [the man], “Let [the unfruitful
fig tree] alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on
manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but
if not, [then] you can cut it down.”
And so, this Season of Lent is a time for you to invite Christ the
Vinedresser to help you overcome any carelessness that might have crept
into your life; . . . to overcome carelessness by submitting yourself
to the simplicity of fasting, . . . the detachment of self-forgetful
generosity, . . . and the obedience of prayer and worship. .
. . This Season of Lent is a time for you to invite Christ the
Vinedresser to feed your simplified life with the nourishment of His
most Holy Word and with the supernatural food and the supernatural
drink of His most precious Body and Blood, . . . allowing the manure of
Christ’s sacred Presence to infect all
your days with His
holiness. . . . In this way, Christ the Vinedresser shall
empower your life to yield sacred
fruit . . . and prevent you from
being found wanting at the time when the Lord God Almighty shall judge
whether we have run the race of our lives as champions . . . or not.