Sunday Sermon for March 3, 2013, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C

Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; 1Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9

In the Gospel reading today our Lord speaks of the fig tree that was not bearing fruit. The owner of the land wanted to cut it down, but the gardener wanted to give it one more year to cultivate it, fertilize it and then, if it does not bear fruit, it would be cut down. Jesus uses this example to highlight the fact that if we do not bear fruit for God we, like the others mentioned in the Gospel reading, will be cut off from God and from the land of the living.

If we consider the parable of the fig tree for a moment, we realize that this tree was not planted just a year or two earlier. It takes a bit for the tree to grow and mature to the point that it is ready to bear fruit. It is evident from the context that the tree had achieved that level of maturity several years earlier but still had no fruit to show for its existence. The owner prudently suggested that it would be better if the tree was removed so that it did not exhaust the soil for no purpose.

Thankfully, when we are talking about human persons and divine grace we do not have to worry about exhausting the supply of grace because it is infinite. However, that does not mean that we can just sit around idle and expect the Lord to continue pouring out His grace upon us. The grace of God is given for a reason: to help us to grow in holiness and, thereby, bear fruit for the Lord. God is very patient with us, knowing our weakness and inability well. There comes a point, however, that when we continually refuse or squander His grace that He will simply let us go our own way, parting ways with Him.

There are some who have a presumptuous idea that since they are baptized and since they have received Holy Communion that Heaven is a guarantee. Even worse, there are many people who seem to think that everyone, or nearly everyone, goes to Heaven. St. Paul, in the second reading speaks of the people of Israel and how in the desert they were all under the cloud, all baptized into Moses, all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, yet most of them did not see the Promised Land, but died in the desert.

One would think, looking back to Egypt, that the people of Israel would have been completely grateful to God for what He did for them. I cannot blame them for being skeptical when Moses came to them after the appearance at Mount Horeb, of which we hear in the first reading. But when they saw the plagues, they saw the sea open before them and close upon the Egyptians, when they were fed daily with miraculous food and drink, you would think they would respond generously to God. Instead, they wanted to go back to slavery, they refused to trust God and Moses, they grumbled against God, and they died in the desert.

Like the people of Israel, we too have been given a promise, not of a land flowing with milk and honey, but of Heaven itself. We are all baptized into Jesus, we have been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and we have received our Lord in Holy Communion. We have been freed from a slavery to sin and Satan which is infinitely greater than the freedom from slavery received by the Israelites. One would think we would be grateful. One would think we would be generous in our response to God.

We see the patience of God as He dealt with the people of Israel for so many years, but after a while He decided that it would be better to cut them down instead of allowing them to exhaust the Promised Land with their fruitlessness. We can each see the patience of God as He has worked with us over the years, but we have to ask if we are bearing fruit for Him.

When God spoke to Moses He revealed His Holy Name. I AM implies that He is always in the present and that He never changes. This is why St. Paul can tell us that the things we read about regarding the events in the desert were written to serve as an example for us so that we do not follow in their ways. Jesus tells us essentially the same thing in the Gospel when He speaks about some people who died tragically and says that if we do not repent something similar will happen to us. As we move toward the middle of Lent, we need to recommit ourselves to our Lenten program, repent, and begin to bear good fruit for the Lord.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit