I was nine years old when the second world war came to an end. I clearly remember bombs falling, artillery fire, nights in the cellar during air attacks. I also remember the hundreds of displaced people who appeared in our small town because they had lost their homes in the East, now Polish territory, and had to start a new life in an unfamiliar environment. Then we got the wonderful chance to live in peace for a long time, and we thought that peace would be a normal state among civilized nations, something firmly assured and lasting forever. How brittle these thoughts were was brought home to us in the past three weeks. Errors are not helpful.
In the second reading today St. Paul gives us his warning against another type of erroneous thinking of a similar kind when he says: “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Are we not all much inclined to believe that we are standing secure? Perhaps we lull ourselves into a comfortable attitude of peace and security, without any critical doubts about ourselves. But can I really be content with my situation, with the way I live, with the atmosphere I create around me in the family and my daily relations, in my place of work, and with my neighbours, with my involvement in social matters or my distance from public affairs? Would all this really stand up to the test, and pass as acceptable at the Last Judgment? Can I in full honesty present all this to the Lord without a profound sense of shame, because in fact it is too far removed from what he wanted his followers to be?
Last Sunday we heard the voice of the Father from the cloud “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.” And the more we make the effort to listen to him, the clearer we sense in us a certain insufficiency, an inadequacy, falling short, literally a shortcoming by not going far enough, a heaviness, paralysis, the lack of radical discipleship. Do you know the feeling of being caught between the insight that one needs to improve and the inability to take effective steps that would make a difference? Change for the better proves to be awfully difficult.
We all carry with us our past, our personal history, our acquired habits, our character, our spontaneous responses, our compliance to social pressure and expectation. We are all driven by the need to cultivate our image in front of others, and so forth. Somewhere deep down we are paralysed by the fear what I would look like, if I really became a radical Christian. This fear makes comfortable compromises all the more attractive.
At this point we recognise today's gospel as “good news”, because in the parable the gardener proclaims God's marvellous patience. The owner of the fig tree speaks as a businessman, expecting satisfactory results. Hence his verdict: “Three years no fruit. That's enough. Cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” The gardener pleads: “Not so fast, please. Give it another chance. Leave it for this year also.” But the gardener too is a hard-boiled realist who knows that time alone would not make any difference. Therefore he adds the promise: “I shall cultivate the ground around it, and add a little manure." I shall take good care of it! "It may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.”
This promise is more than the consoling news that we may hope that God will have patience with us. It also assures us of help and assistance in situations where we by ourselves feel unable to initiate a thorough change in our life. God will do more than allow us time, he will also "add a little manure, cultivate the ground around us." Something is happening around us that may escape our notice, or may be hard to recognize. Just as the fig tree was unaware of what was happening round it; but suddenly there was new fresh sap in its budding branches.
Fr. Dietmar Lenferns M. Ar.