Today's Gospel is a story that highlights the contradictions within our faith - cut something off so that it can grow back better, stronger, fuller, more purposeful. Pare down so that abundance can issue forth from our simplicity. Be made strong in our weakness. Find joy in pain, hope in suffering and life in death. Receive mercy even though we are wholly underserving.
Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree that bears no fruit. The master, seeing that it is barren, tells the gardener to cut it down. In a last ditch effort, the gardener pleads for just one more chance to prune it, tend its soil, nurture it and see if then it may bear fruit. If after one year the tree remains fruitless, the gardener begs, then it can be removed.
While not to further a centuries old debate about the hierarchy between faith and works, Jesus clearly states in today's Gospel that our faith must produce fruit. Our works must clearly mark our faith. Faith without works is dead ("So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." -James 2:17).
During this Lenten season let us take advantage of the Master affording us one more chance at rebirth, one more chance for pruning to spur growth.
This Lent, let us become who we were created to be. Let us, like the fig tree, bring the fruit into the world that only we can bring. Each of us has been made for a specific purpose, a fruit that is unique to our tree. May our efforts to prune so as to produce more fruit not be in vain - let our fasting not lead to a slimmer physique but a transformed spirit. May our prayer fill not us with righteousness but to the recognition of our need for a Savior. May our almsgiving not give us earthly accolades but a more generous heart.
The pruning is only a worthwhile horticultural technique only if it brings new life. Similarly, our prayer, fasting and almsgiving create nothing more than a spiny branch if they fail to make the world a little better through our actions. For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
To paraphrase Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, our past is dead and gone. Our future is still being forged. We have only today. Let's get to work, work that bears fruit.