The message of the Gospel is the message of Lent. We are once again reminded that this is a special time for important decisions. We have, like the fig tree, been given another chance, an extension during which we choose whether to repent and bear fruit or remain sterile and die. We choose life or death, the spirit or the flesh, heaven or hell. These decisions are chosen by ourselves in our everyday conduct. We judge ourselves by the way we live and love.
Love or commitment or repentance and sorrow cannot by their nature be forced on anyone and neither does God force people to choose one option or the other. We respond to God’s invitation and to each other, in love, freely or not at all. The general direction of our lives, the energy of our commitment, and the love which motivates us leads us in one final, decisive direction or another. If we live for God and for others, then that is what we get at the end; the company and reward of the communion of saints. If we live for ourselves alone that is what we get at the end; ourselves alone.
Like the Hebrew people in the first reading, we are on a journey, a pilgrimage through the desert of life. We are guided by Christ, led onwards and upwards by the values and the presence of God among us, fed on the bread of life and strengthened by the spirit welling up inside us. Like the pilgrims of old we complain, blame God, follow false Gods and sometimes perish. The Promised Land is our common destination.
Jesus does not use violent deaths to pressurise change in his hearers. This is not to be considered as divine punishments for sin. He warned his contemporaries against a sustained lack of conscience, or even worse, against a good conscience which is too vague. The call to conversion is urgent and demanding even allowing for the farmer-like patience of God.
Lent and today in particular is a time for re-grouping, for setting our faces towards heaven and the promises of Christ. It’s a time for renewing ourselves, a time set aside, a favourable time. We grasp the opportunity or we perish.