Today’s theme of the Gospel is clearly on “repentance.” Throughout the Gospels, we hear Jesus mingling with sinners of all kinds: public sinners like tax collectors and also reaching out to them with a compassionate heart of forgiving adulteress, prostitutes, thieves and most powerfully and graphically of all His forgiveness of all those Chief Priest, scribes, Pharisees and Roman authorities who crucified Him, when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Let us remember too that Jesus also proclaimed the need of repentance to the ordinary people who did not sin gravely, but were ordinary good people . . . like most of us here. This is not surprising at all because in fact, every human person in this world needs to repent because we are all sinners and have one way or another caused hurt and harm to others, whether we realise it or not.
John the Baptist preached the need for repentance. But, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus preached to the crowds about the need for repentance, He is raising the need for repentance to a higher level. Jesus is proclaiming that its repentance is an essential condition to attain salvation in the Kingdom of God. And that is why Jesus says to the crowds, “Unless you repent, you will all perish!”
Repentance is accepting the truth that we have sinned. But, “Do we all know what sin is about? Jesus is saying that sin is about saying “sorry”, but more importantly sin is about the salvation of our souls and God’s Kingdom. “Our consciences would create a certain guilt within us to remind us that we have sinned, and thus our need to go for “Confession.”
However, we all know that our consciences can be dulled by the unconscious ways in which we convince ourselves that we have not sinned. We call this rationalisation. We cleverly and unconsciously tell ourselves that we have not sinned, and then convince ourselves that it is someone else who is to be blamed. Thus, is it very new that we fail to admit our own sinfulness? Such a sin began with Adam pointing his finger at Eve, and Eve pointing her finger at the Satan, the serpent.
Repentance is deeper than saying “sorry”, true repentance is deeper. It is coming before God with humility to accept that I should stop pointing the finger at others and take ownership and responsibility for having sinned. God created us in such a way that when we point our finger at someone three other fingers are pointing at ourselves. True repentance at its core is a deep reconciliation between me and God, and facing the very basic question, “Have I been honest with God? Do I love Him enough to stop blaming others and start acknowledging that I need His Forgiving and Merciful Love to forgive me so that I can then live a more authentic life?”While rationalisation is a form of subconscious self-deception that the bad spirits uses for sinners who are not totally open to repentance and God’s graces, there is another form of the sin of self-deception that is even more common. We call it the “sin of omission.” And this sin is basically the failure to do good that God expects of us when He gives us so much blessings in our lives.
One good way to find out whether we are committing such sins of omission is to ask ourselves, “If I were to reflect on the past several years of my life, can I honestly say that I have loved God and shown this love to others?
The good test that we each have to subject ourselves to is to ask ourselves the question, “Do my life bear the fruits that Jesus is proud of?” This is essentially what the parable of the fig tree in today’s Gospel is about. The problem of the fig tree is not that it was bearing bad fruits, but that it was not bearing any good fruits.
Recently, I was talking to one of our parishioner who has been volunteering in a certain project of the parish. Let us call her Julie (not her real name). Julie shared this with me, “For years, my mother was always complaining to me about what she needed and do not have; my mom was never satisfied with what we gave her; she was always asking for more. I finally convinced my mom to be more engaged with certain projects for the poor and needy.
She accepted and was transformed. And when she experienced the joy and happiness of being able to serve the poor and needy, she began to appreciate what she has.” So Julie profoundly concluded, “When we stay at home all the time, we will always see what we don’t have, but when we go out and serve others, we will begin to see how blessed we are.”
Julie added, being well-off, I used to spend a lot of time and money with many of my friends shopping, dining and enjoying ourselves. After some time, I realise that I was wasting a lot of time and money not only on useless things, but also talking about people. And I realise that all these were becoming so boring, meaningless and empty.
So, I began to encourage one friend at a time to do something useful and good; to be involved in church; to help out even in small ways, to be involved in projects to help repair and build schools for the poor regardless of whether they are Christians or not; in fact, most of the poor are Muslims. At first, we were suspected of wanting to convert them, but after some time, they realise we are genuine; now they trust us fully. I also started a foundation for the poor, and I even introduced my many other contacts and even companies that I know to have foundations to support projects for the poor. Initially I had to coordinate these projects, but now these companies can run these projects without me, and that’s really great.
In all of these activities, I have found life to be so fulfilling and happy; the great joy and happiness that I get out of helping the poor and being involved in the church are in themselves great rewards from God. My good husband is very busy, but also very supportive; and I also want my son and daughter to grow up in their faith in such wholesome ways.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Repentance is not merely turning away from evil but, also realising that we have failed to produce good fruits in our lives; more so when we are given so much blessings, opportunities and means by God to be able to do so much good in our lives.
A fig tree takes about three years to produce fruits. In today’s Gospel, the fig tree did not produce fruits after three years. The owner is disappointed that the tree is soaking up good nutrients from the soil and in return not producing the good fruits that are expected of it . . . And that if these same nutrients were given to another tree, it could have produced a rich harvest.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the more blessings we are given, the greater the responsibilities we have to love God in return. But, if we are to reject God constantly, but living a lukewarm faith, and be satisfied with living a minimalist faith, then like the parable of the fig tree, a day may come (hopefully this will not happen) when we will cut ourselves from God. And, if that day should come, that would be the saddest day of our life . . . for to live a life that is distanced and cut away from God is to have lost the whole meaning of what life is about.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I want it said of me that I plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow.” Jesus came into our lives not only to make a difference, but more importantly to save us from our sinful ways and to offer us a happiness that lasts for all eternity. What are we doing with our lives? Are we plucking a weed of someone’s life and planting a flower in its place? Are we an instrument of God’s forgiving, compassionate and healing love to others?
Therefore, as I conclude my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us once again ask ourselves the basic questions that each of us have to face today. First, “Do I love God enough to desire a genuine repentance in my heart? Second, if I desire repentance, then am I open enough to focus on my own needs of repentance instead of convincing myself that others are the cause of my sins and thus rationalise my sins away? Third and finally, “How guilty am I of my sin of omission? How is God challenging me to do the good that needs to be done whether in the family, in the church or reaching out to the poor? When we are able to face all these questions honestly, we are then facing the truth of true repentance.
The Holy Spirit that moved the heart of Julie to conversion and then using her to be God’s instrument of conversion to all her friends and corporate contacts, is the same Spirit in our hearts. Speak to the Spirit of God and listen to what it has to say to you today.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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