Click the arrow below to hear a member of the Assumption community read today’s Gospel.
Note: On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent this year, the Church offers a choice of using the scripture readings for Year A or Year C. Since we will celebrate the First Scrutiny of the Christian Initiation of Adults at this Sunday’s 7 PM Mass with Wil Martins who will be baptized this Easter, we will be using the Year A readings in the Chapel. The reflection that is offered here, however, is for the Year C readings.
The last day of my life!
In a commencement speech, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, talked about death. He said, “no one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven do not want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Jobs shared with students a question that he asked himself every morning for many years: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? […] Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything […] just falls away in the face of death, leaving what is truly important.” In the manner of Jobs, we say that our life is more meaningful if we accept our mortal condition and constantly prepare ourselves to face our death. We are to live as if every day is the last chance to better ourselves.
In today’s parable, the gardener asked the owner of the fig tree to give it another chance for one more year. Imagine that we had one more year to live. What would we do today? We would want to better our relationships with those who are near and dear to us. We would want to prepare ourselves to encounter the One who is always waiting for us. And so, we would do everything as if it were for the last time. There would not even be time for us to judge other people. Their suffering would stir up a feeling of compassion within us. Their failures would be a call for us to look at ourselves. We would not even have time to ask ourselves if the victims of an accident were more guilty than us or not. All would be about our personal conversion. All would be about our own repentance. All would be about an urgency for a better relationship with ourselves, with others and with God.
God offers us a last chance not because he validates our wrong actions or spiritual infertility, but because he grants us an opportunity to repent. God does not compromise on our evil way of living and doing. Rather, he provides us, his beloved children, with his patience, compassion and goodness. Even though we are unworthy, God offers us another year, a year of pruning, nurture and self-improvement. God offers us hope that changes our way of living here and now. We are to live every moment of our present life as a period of grace. We cannot postpone what is important for our future until the next day. If repentance is the best way for us to better our relationship with others and with God, we are to start right away.
When we think that we have plenty of time to live, we focus more on the other’s error and imperfection than on our own. And sadly, we often look at what is merely negative in the other. If we see an accident, we seek to know who is responsible. We even have enough time to make a distinction between being responsible and being guilty! The example that people used to interrogate Jesus was about human responsibility. They reported the fact that Pilate massacred some Galileans. The governor of Judea ordered them to be killed at the very moment when they offered their sacrifices at the temple. Their blood was mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. It was a punitive action. Despite this, for Jesus, those Galileans were not more guilty than all other Galileans. If people do not repent, they will die the same way.
For his part, Jesus himself gave another example where human responsibility was not involved. It was the case of eighteen people who died because of the collapse of the tower at Siloam. Jesus did not say that those victims were innocent. Rather, he specified that other people were not less guilty than they. In other words, Jesus affirmed that those people who died were not more guilty than anyone else in Jerusalem at that time. The avoidance of tragedy did not mean the innocence of survivors. Like everyone else, Jesus’ interlocutors were invited to repentance. While their lives were still peaceful, a call for conversion was personally addressed to them. Between their unworried life and their unexpected death, Jesus offered them the gift of conversion. It was up to them to read the signs of the times and to change the direction of their lives accordingly.
Everything that happens to others is a sign for our own conversion. Among all the signs, death is the clearest one. Death is a sign that everyone can read. It is a sign that is given everywhere. As we cannot participate in our own death, we need to look at the death of others to think about our own. We are certain that we are going to die, but we do not know when or how. It is at the very moment when we are least self-assured that God can best speak to us. All that we can do is to listen to him attentively. The doubtful moment compels all of us to do anything we can to avoid the worst. It is not about a last-minute preparation. It is an ongoing reflection.
The question of sign leads us back to the passage that immediately precedes today’s Gospel. There, Jesus accused people of being hypocrites: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (12:56) As human beings, we do not decide the rising of the cloud in the west or the blowing of the wind from the south. We do not decide when it will rain or when it will be dry. The only thing that we can do is to seize the moment in between. It is our time. It is our Kairos, our opportune moment. We would be hypocrites (meaning we would not be ourselves) if we failed to grasp our Kairos. Our Kairos is the moment in between two creative acts, for instance between the creation of the cloud and its rising. Our opportune place is a place in between the death of others and our own death.
What is your understanding of time and space? If you tell me, I will tell you who you are. Time and space are not a framework in which our life is played out. Time and space are a part of our life. They shape our life. They give a meaning to our life. Our life is barren if its space is a prison. Without an open space, we are condemned to turn around within ourselves. We are bound to our past. We are unceasingly paying for our past errors. To determine who we really are, we need to be on the way. We need to get moving. We need to be en route. The space behind us is our history. The space before us is our identity. We are not yet who we are. We become who we are. We are who we shall be. Our opponent and our judge can deal only with our past. It is up to us to create our future. And we have one more year to do so!
Prayer: God, master of time and space, help us to seize our opportune moment to create our future.
Resolution: What would I do today if I knew that I would die tomorrow or next year?