Sunday Reflection – The Grace of Confession
The Grace of Confession
Lent is a season of preparation for Easter when we will renew our baptismal promises to reject the wiles of Satan and to commit ourselves afresh to being a follower of Jesus Christ. Today’s Gospel (Luke 13: 1-9) is an encouragement to improve our lives with the help of God’s grace. Remember that Luke is the evangelist of mercy and of the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
Were these tragedies a punishment?
There had been two tragedies in Jerusalem. Pilate, the Roman Governor sent in his troops to quell some disturbance and several pilgrims from Galilee were killed. Then, a tower at the pool of Siloam, where people went for a cure, collapsed, killing eighteen people. Minds started judging and tongues were wagging. People were saying that God was punishing these people because they were sinners. Jesus replied that these Galileans were no worse than the people who were condemning them. Those who were pointing the finger of blame at others had three fingers pointing back at themselves. Instead of examining the lives of other people, they would be better off examining their own lives. “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.”
What would Jesus do?
This idea of a punishing God is still around. The best way of knowing the mind of God is to see the way Jesus preached and acted. God the Son, the Word made flesh, is the living revelation of God in a human life that we can understand. Several times in the Gospel Jesus made it clear that God’s desire is that sinners would repent, thereby allowing his mercy to heal them. He came to heal them, not to judge and condemn them. We never see him punishing people. The time he took a whip to end the commercialization of the Temple was not an act of punishment but a symbol of protecting the sanctity of a holy place. He actually shocked the pious religious leaders the way he sat with sinners, and worse again, shared food and drink with them! Pope Francis called his approach a revolution of tenderness. That is what God is like, not vindictive but merciful.
Sin contains its own punishment
God is not in the business of punishment. The fact is that sinful behaviour carries its own inbuilt punishment. Sinful living sows the seeds of unhappiness. Sin breaks the peace and harmony of our relationship with God. Sin disrupts our relationship with others by fostering anger, distrust, hatred, bitterness and prejudice. Sin poisons one’s inner dignity and peace. Even the ultimate punishment of hell is self-inflicted. “Everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it to prevent his actions from being shown up” (John 3: 20). Those who are hardened in evil refuse the light of God’s mercy.
The parable of the fruitless fig tree
Jesus continued his teaching with his parable of the fruitless fig tree. For three years it had produced no fruit. “Cut it down”, said the owner. But the gardener pleaded, “Let us give it one more chance. Give me time to dig around it and manure it, and we’ll see next year.” God is the patient gardener who loves all his trees, even the fruitless ones. He will give it one more chance … and another chance after that … and yet another one more chance if necessary. His mercy has no end. The Responsorial Psalm today is a beautiful description of God’s unending mercy.
“The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.”
Digging and enriching
The remedy suggested by the gardener was digging followed by enriching the earth. Digging around the roots is a good image of an honest, searching examination at the roots of our failures and misdeeds. Digging is not comfortable and confessing is humiliating but this is the best way to allow God’s healing grace into our lives.
Spiritual healing is to be seen in the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-24). The first three fruits describe a healthy relationship with God: love, joy and peace. This person enjoys God.
The second threesome form a healthy relationship with people: patience, kindness and goodness. Patience allows one to accept others with all their differences and oddities, without being disturbed. Kindness in thought, word and action makes the world a better place for others. In one of the Beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Goodness is an inner eye that will search for whatever is good in others rather than concentrating on their faults.
The third threesome describe the inner strength of a person at home with God, with other people and oneself: trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Trustfulness is a strong backbone of hope which supports a person through all sorts of difficult times. Gentleness begins with being gentle with oneself, not to be beating yourself up when you make a mistake. A famous spiritual guide from the East described how his first year in monastic life was spent practising how to close a door gently. A soul at peace will be seen in a body at peace. The final fruit of the Spirit is self-control: perhaps we should call it Spirit-control.
We are blessed to have a special sacrament to celebrate God’s mercy. More about that next Sunday when we reflect on the parable of the Prodigal Son.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord, all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings.
It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills,
Who redeems your life from the grave,
Who crowns you with love and compassion.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap