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Father Vincent Hawkswell

God will do anything to win you over

Voices March 18, 2019

Jesus curses the fig tree. Like the gardener in the Gospel parable, God tries everything to make his trees bear fruit, but if they will not, he accepts their decision and cuts them down, writes Father Hawkswell. (James Tissot/Wikimedia)

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C
First Reading: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15
Second Reading: 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12
Gospel Reading: Lk 13:1-9

“Father,” the Church says in her Eucharistic Prayer, “You formed man in your own image ... And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again, you offered them covenants, and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.”

We see God’s mercy in this Sunday’s First Reading, when God approaches Moses and announces that he is going to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

“In the fullness of time, you sent your only begotten Son to be our Saviour ... To accomplish your plan, he gave himself up to death and, rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life.”

Thus we see the essential difference between Christianity and all the other religions that have expressed man’s search for God, Pope John Paul II says in his encyclical Tertio Millennio Adveniente.

“It is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which he may be reached,” the Pope says. From now on, religion is no longer a “blind search for God,” but rather “the response of faith to God who reveals himself.”

In fact, through the Incarnation, God, “moved by his fatherly heart,” not only speaks to human beings, but also seeks out and finds each one. In a manner known only to God, perhaps, the Holy Spirit offers everyone “the possibility of being associated” with Christ’s death and Resurrection.

Picture Christ looking at you like a lover, with eyes full of longing, with arms wide open as they were on the cross. Realize that he will do anything to win you for himself, no matter what your life has been, no matter what your life is now.

It is hard to imagine how anyone can reject such overwhelming love. Nevertheless, God has given us that freedom, for love cannot be forced. In his Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul says that, faced with our free will, God has “decided” to make himself powerless.

“God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love.”

Some people, then, may reject God. In the Second Reading, St. Paul says the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses all received the same invitation from God and the same treatment, but “God was not pleased” with most of them, “and they were struck down in the wilderness.”

Like the gardener in the Gospel parable, God tries everything to make his trees bear fruit, but if they will not, he accepts their decision and cuts them down.

We should take God’s treatment of the Israelites as a warning, but, at the same time, we should be careful not to judge individuals. The Galileans Pilate killed and the 18 buried under the tower of Siloam were no more sinful than others, Jesus says.

We are all prone to what the Catechism calls “rash judgement”: assuming without sufficient foundation, even tacitly, the moral guilt of a neighbour. “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it,” the Catechism says.

During Lent, let us pray that “we who ask forgiveness be ready to forgive one another,” as we say in the Prayer Over the Gifts during the Mass. We must not approve or condone sin, but we must hate it first, and principally, in ourselves.