REPENTANCE Luke 13:1-10 March 3, 2013 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
March 3, 2013
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
“If you do not repent, you will all perish.” In answer to a disciple’s question, Jesus the Christ warns us to repent of our sins.
About two weeks before Christmas, a teenager, seventeen years of age, stood in an Ohio courtroom. At the foot of the judge’s bench, a grim-faced Brogan Rafferty admitted his participation in murdering three men. Repentant, he thinks of his crime as “something horrible.” He thinks of the victims’ relatives as currently living in hell. A sister of one of the victims tells Rafferty in an eye-to-eye confrontation: “You know nothing of remorse, you know nothing of shame.” And this youth hears the judge sentence him to a life in prison without a chance for parole.
That would have elicited, I think, considerable repentance from Rafferty. Remorse and self-reproach would quash his young spirit, although the sister told the judge and the press that he knew nothing of remorse or shame. Rafferty said he wished he had taken the opportunity to run away without involving himself in the murders. He wished that he had never done such murderous deeds. He repents.
Conscious of our own sinfulness, we might think of the cascade of harshness that the judge imposes; Rafferty must remain behind bars for as long as he lives. Do our sins expect such a judgment from the Creator who knows us thoroughly?
Repentance means that we turn back to the right path; it means a change of heart and a turning toward God. The prophet Hosea calls us to repentance: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has rent, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1). The prophets call us to repent (Amos 4:16; Jeremiah 3:12-24).
Today’s gospel tells of two tragic events that urge us to repent. In the first event Pontius Pilate sends troops to slaughter a group of Galileans who were offering animal sacrifice. Animals and humans both were butchered. This resulted in the people’s blood mingling with the sacrificed animal blood. Our Lord rejects notion that in some fashion these people deserved their terrible fate, but at the same time Jesus warns that we ought to repent of our sins. Those people offering ritual sacrifice of animals suddenly see the flash of roman swords; they had no time to repent.
In a similar manner, a portion of the Jerusalem city wall gives way, collapses and kills eighteen people. Their guilt was no greater than the guilt of other citizens; one cannot wag a finger and claim that these victims were suddenly struck down because they sinned monstrously. Nonetheless, you and I should repent of our own sinfulness for we know neither the day nor the hour.
Pontius Pilate effected an atrocious murder, and the collapsing tower killed many, and all of us ought to repent now, for those people died suddenly without needed time to repent. Life is uncertain, death is capricious, and judgment is inevitable. Jesus does not warn here of physical death; He uses death as a metaphor for the coming judgment. The image is shocking. The need for repentance urges us.
Now our Lord adds a story that demonstrates God’s patience with us. In the parable of the fig tree, we experience God’s mercy, yet we also feel the need to repent. According to the story, the owner of the land inspects a fig tree. Because this owner can find no fruit on the tree for three years running, he now orders the gardener to cut it down. Land, after all, is expensive, and this useless fruit tree just uses land space; a more productive tree could be planted here.
The gardener, however, intercedes, offering to dig around the tree and fertilize it. If it does not bear fruit in another year, well, then, the gardener will cut it down. Jesus thus asks us to identify ourselves with the fig tree that is given one last chance. The time is short; we have one—only one—Lent to put things right before the judgment. If we do not use this season to repent, we will be condemned like the victims of Pilate’s troops, or like the victims of the falling wall at Siloam.
Saint Peter writes to his community.
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. II Peter 3:8-9)
When a person in a criminal trial is found guilty, the convict usually repents before the judge imposes a sentence. But such repentance does not always occur. Last year in Pennsylvania, the assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, denied any guilt; before the judge and jury, he claimed his innocence. Even after his conviction and while about to hear his sentence, Mr. Sandusky refused to repent.
In this season of Lent, the Church holds out confession to us. By the grace of God, we should admit our failings, for by this we change our heart, we turn to God. The prophet Micah envisions God as anxious to forgive the repentant.
Who is like you, the God who removes guilt
And pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
And delights in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
Treading underfoot our guilt?
You [O Lord] will cast into the depths of the sea all of our sins. (Micah 7:18-19)
Our Lord draws us, repentant, to Himself. Amen!