Third Sunday of Lent
Plow and Weed Earnestly - Do Good and
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” (Lk 13: 6-9)
Those who plant fruit trees hope the trees will bear fruit. Trees that cannot bear fruit are useless and are just taking up space; their sole fate is to be cut down by the owner of the garden.
But the gardener begged the owner to give the unproductive tree one more chance. However, the gardener did not just sit and wait for the tree to produce fruit. On the contrary, he industriously plowed the ground and added fertilizer to the soil so as to increase the chance of fertility. In this world if we do not put forth energy we will not gain anything.
Today's Gospel records another story worth our attention. The Jewish people thought that all misfortune and disaster were punishments from God. It seemed to them that the Galileans who had been killed by Pontius Pilate when offering sacrifice and the eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them had done evil deeds and so were punished. But Jesus said very clearly, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Lk 13: 2-3) Jesus meant that we all really are sinners, all of us have faults. If we meet with disaster it is what we deserve, and our sins are not less than the Galileans or the eighteen people crushed to death. If we do not meet with a major misfortune it is only because God is merciful and refrains from punishing us immediately.
We have only one choice: Repent!
When we talk about evil and sin we do not mean one or two isolated evil deeds. We are talking about a person's whole existence, entire lifestyle, life orientation. We commit sin because we turn from God and follow a path towards evil. Sin becomes habitual and we walk away from God and from life, gradually straying further and further away.
The repentance that Jesus asks of us is not just changing one or two bad habits, but a complete conversion, an entire change of life, a total turning from evil to embrace a new life. Thereafter we will walk a road of righteousness that directs us straight to God.
We sometimes act as if God is executor of the death penalty, but actually more often than not it is we who punish ourselves.
In the Philosophy of the Sky Xun Zi said, “The law of nature follows a course. Live in accordance with it and it brings good fortune, act in contradiction to it and it will bring misfortune. Follow the path and do not change it, and heaven itself cannot cause calamity; act foolishly in opposition to it and heaven cannot turn it into good fortune.” (1) This means that the law of nature follows a regular course. Following it brings good fortune, going against it brings calamity. Disaster and good fortune, good and bad omens, order and confusion, are the natural results of our following towards or against this right way. We ourselves must bear the responsibility. Xun Zi went even further to say that if we act according to the course of life and nature, even heaven is unable to harm us. But if we act in contradiction to this course, then heaven itself is not able to save us.
Su Dong Po in the Theses on Gun Jong said, “Success does not come on the date the success is made known. There must be a beginning. Disaster does not arrive on the date disaster strikes. There must be omens beforehand.” (2) Success and failure, disaster and good fortune, goodness and evil, do not come by accident. They are the result of a person's way of life and an accumulation of large and small acts of behavior over a period of time. There are causes for success, forewarnings of disaster. When one is not careful, disaster will strike. This is what is meant by “Disaster and trouble often arise from oversight. Intelligent and brave people are often trapped in the things they lust.” (3) Disasters are caused by slight negligences. Even wise and courageous people may stumble and fall because of their own small faults.
If we allow our faults to accumulate unrestrainedly, they will eventually become evil deeds with many bad results. We may feel we are 'being punished'. At that time we should recall that it is not God who is punishing, nor the 'world' or the devil or anything else. In actuality all along we have been hurting ourselves.
Even if we have not hurt ourselves, what have we done of which we can
be proud? When the owner of the garden wants to pick fruit from our
tree, what can we bring forth? Should we not diligently 'plow the ground
and add fertilizer to the soil' in our life now, so that our lives can
produce good fruit?