This is a Lenten meditation with reflections from the Sunday readings and suggestions for spiritual practices. I invite you to spend some time this week in the lectionary readings, which are rich and rewarding instruction from God for your fasting, confession, and prayer.
3rd Sunday of Lent, March 24, 2019
Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; Luke 13:1-9
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-7
My father owned a small ranch where the whole family enjoyed fishing, riding horses and even working hard on the land. We had access to a neighbor’s property where we could cut firewood. The owner asked us to only cut the trees marked with blue paint indicating which ones were marked for removal.
In the parable of the Barren Fig Tree in Luke’s Gospel, Israel, the barren tree, is getting a blue mark right across the face. It’s a hard story and a hard word: “If it doesn’t bear fruit, chop it down.” What does Jesus mean? He knew that his people were consumed with rebellion and political ambition, seeking an earthly kingdom and rejecting their role in building the kingdom of God. He knew they would be “cut down” by their enemy.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:7
Thank God this story doesn’t end with the chopping down of potential life, but offers the hope of returning to the Lord for compassion. The gardener puts down the blue paint can of judgment, picks up the shovel of restoration, and by pruning and fertilizing, gives the fig tree, the people of God, another year, a year of compassion, abundant pardon.
Lent offers time to soul search and repent from ways that keep us on the outs with God, to cut out areas that are just downright dead, and fertilize our souls with much needed time in contemplation and waiting on the Lord. Like the tree, we also are given one more year of compassion. Do we offer the same compassion of God to ourselves? You might have been marking yourself blue, thinking: “I’m never going to be good enough.” Or, “I just can’t stop doing the wrong thing!” Jesus, the Vinedresser, is the Divine Compassion incarnate. He went to the depths of despair and death to experience and heal our suffering and to give us the second chance of a fruitful life as the beloved of God.
Practice of Divine Compassion. For this practice, you will give opportunity and space to be open to the Divine Compassion, the God of forgiveness and second chances. Find a comfortable and quiet place for prayer. Take several deep breaths and allow the Breath of Life to fill your soul. Rest in the calm of your breathing in and out. Allow yourself to be intentional in your openness to God. To bring yourself into the moment, you can repeat, “Come, Divine Compassion,” or “O God, you are my God.”
Recollect or remember a sacred moment with Jesus when you have encountered compassion, forgiveness, and understanding from God. Rest in that moment. Remember the images, sounds, emotions, or words of the encounter.
Sit with this compassionate encounter and feel again being held, forgiven, or understood by God. Allow a symbol of the experience to come to mind, such as a cross, broken bread, or the sound of cleansing ocean waves. Use the symbol to draw you back into the Compassionate.
Practice of Offering Compassion. Once we have experienced Divine Compassion for ourselves, we are able to offer it to others. Compassion is being deeply moved by the other’s experience and responding in ways to heal hurts or promote growth. Compassion for the other must come with recognizing that we see others through our own judgments and reactions. In our divisive culture, we are conditioned to react to others, to see only our own position and needs. With this awareness, we must practice compassion by seeing the other’s longings, fears, wounded-ness, and uniqueness without the filter of judgment or agenda.
Take a moment to search your mind and heart for someone you need to offer the gift of compassion. As you think of the other, see if there is reaction or judgment that needs to be removed from your thoughts about this person. Clear your mind of these thoughts one by one. Then try to imagine what might be behind your interactions with the other, such as their dreams, fears, and hurts. Imagine how their longings might be impacting their behavior. How can you offer compassion to them? Sit with this question and imagine what compassion toward them would look like.
Reflect. What are the “blue paint markings” (lies, addictions, desires, personal ambitions) that have killed your desire for repentance, change, growth?
Can you see Jesus with the shovel and fertilizer offering you a second chance for restoration, forgiveness, new life and love? Would you like Jesus to offer you a second chance for forgiveness, newness, love? Ask him.
Worship. Spend some worship time in Psalm 63. You can use, “O God, you are my God,” to center your prayers or as a breath prayer. Or sing a song of praise and blessing. Let your soul be satisfied and joyful with the rich food of praise.
Act. The Great Commandment in Matt 22:37-39 calls us to love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the “fertilizer” you need to be deeply moved by your neighbors’ experience and to respond in ways to heal hurts or promote growth. This week take some “compassion action.”