Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent


Cut it off!
Give it a bit.

“‘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.’”

We have all felt like the orchard owner. We try at things and put a lot of effort into them. It seems some are an uphill battle; we don’t seem to be getting anywhere for our effort. We’d like to cut that failure out of our lives and start over; put it behind us.

This experience can happen on lots of levels. Perhaps it is that plant that just won’t flourish on our windowsill, perhaps it is bigger things: our job, friendships, education, or our marriage.

Today’s first lesson is about perseverance. Jesus tells us the story of the orchard owner who has invested a lot to get this tree to grow, and it has failed him every year. He’s ready to cut it off, cut it down, get that failure out of his life, start over, or just put it behind him. The gardener tells the orchard owner and us that we need to give it more time.

Imagine that you’ve had a couple tough years in a marriage, or at work. You’re ready for that divorce or to quit. Then this parable comes to mind and you relent, you give it another year. A year later you look back and…

Hopefully you look back at your marriage and find that it has settled down, flourished, and produced fruit – love, a deeper relationship, and respect. You look back at your job and find good productivity, a promotion and success.

Our Lenten message is that that we cannot just leave the fix to itself for a year. The gardener didn’t just tell the orchard owner and us to give it more time. He understood that the owner needed to “cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.” In other words, time alone is not enough – we have to put the work in.

That marriage, job, education, friendship, plant on the windowsill all need work and commitment to flourish. Our investment in our faith in Jesus, our love for Him and His Church take commitment and work. Our sinfulness doesn’t end by itself. Things don’t fix themselves.

Thankfully, we don’t work at any of this alone. The gardener by our side is Jesus. He offers us those graces of forgiveness, fellowship in faith, communion with Him and each other. He cultivates and fertilizes our work with His grace that heals perfectly. The next time we’re ready to cut it off, don’t. Turn instead to Him and get to work.