We have a little Fig Tree – nothing does it bear!
We have a little Fig Tree – nothing does it bear! Which isn’t surprising because we only moved in 18 months ago and it’s about a metre high. Today Jesus uses the example of a Fig Tree to illustrate a couple of hard sayings first about some murders by Pilate:
‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
Then, about those killed when a tower fell on them:
‘do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?’
He follows each of these statements with:
‘unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did’
His parable of the fig tree goes some way to help us understand what he meant. The owner wishes to cut down the tree that has wasted space for 3 years but Jesus, the gardener, urges him to have mercy:
“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew about Jonah:
The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Jesus is preaching a Gospel that doesn’t rely on the Jerusalem Temple and he is preaching the same message of repentance as his cousin John and we know how unpopular he was so it is probably not going to do much in Jesus’ popularity stakes today either. So much for Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild!
To fully engage with the Gospel Message, we must understand the two key words of sin and repentance. If we look at sin first, the Greek word for sin is ‘Hamartia’ which is a term that could be applied to archery as ‘Missing the Mark’ and doesn’t necessarily mean something that is reprehensible. After all how often have we heard ‘The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions’ now that’s Missing the Mark.
A Desert Father named Evagrius noticed 8 characteristics of the desert monks. These became known as the 7 Deadly Sins which we can remember with the mnemonic PALEGAS – Pride; Avarice; Lust; Envy; Greed; Anger; Sloth plus number 8 – Vanity and also a 9th which is Lack of Faith or Fear. Evagrius referred to them as Habitual Passions.
They are the way we tick when we are on automatic – which is most of the time.
So what about our second word, Repentance which is the Greek word – ‘Metanoia’ – Meta (meaning greater) and Noia (meaning mind). Repentance is to develop a ‘higher’ mind which means to notice when we are ‘Missing the Mark’ or going up the garden path. This means we can compare the adjusting of our sights to how we navigate through life.
The history of navigation is fascinating. Until the 17th Century we navigated using a method developed by Ptolemy. He devoted his life to astronomy and devised a method of navigation using the stars. The interesting thing was, however, that his basic premise was wrong - that the stars and planets rotated around the earth. In the early 16th Century Copernicus re-established the truth that had been eclipsed by Ptolemy - that in fact the stars in our solar system rotate around the sun – it was a revolution that even the Church vehemently opposed.
Geocentrism had been the way we navigated for centuries but eventually it gave way to the Heliocentrism – what is fascinating is that they both ‘work’ but only one is right.
It’s like putting ourselves at the Centre of the Universe which is Egocentrism or if we put God at the centre – Theo-Centrism. Jesus is urging us to put God at the centre in the Gospel.
We can draw parallels with being a Christian – if we put ourselves at the centre of our universe, we might be able to navigate through life but ultimately unless we put God at the centre – we will miss the mark and the evidence will be the fruits we bear.
I believe Jesus is urging us to develop what Muslim believers call Taqwa – or God consciousness. Each year I would help the Imams in my prison with their planning of the Holy Month of Ramadan which this year falls at the beginning of April. They taught me that one of the purposes of the Fast of Ramadan was to nurture Taqwa or God Consciousness – the very same purpose of the Fast of Lent.
St. Benedict nurtures this in his Rule for Religious:
Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.
Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.
Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do,
aware that God’s gaze is upon you,
wherever you may be.
God Consiousness is the same as the ‘Fear of God’ in the psalms reminiscent of the sandwich boards I remember on the High Street with the caption:
Repent for the Kingdom of God is nigh.
God consciousness helps us to navigate through life. Like when Muslim’s pray, they face towards Mecca just as in our medieval church we face Eastwards towards Jerusalem. When we are true believers, we worship to recalibrate and re-set our map and compass with the Lord at the Centre of our life, not ourselves.
Jesus wants us to practice God Consciousness. If we don’t, then we become Practical Atheists – professing belief in God whilst doing something contrary to His will and moral commission which is ‘To love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbour’s as ourselves. ‘
A Practical Atheist pays lip-service to these words – they profess their belief in God, but their fruit proves their emptiness. We don’t have to look far to see where this is being acted out in the fig tree of Putin. He goes to church, he receives Holy Communion, he holds the cross but for 3 seasons, his fruit has been the fruit of war – in Crimea; Chechnya and Georgia and now Ukraine. The axe of God’s judgment is poised at the trunk of his soul.
We must do all we can to nurture God Consciousness in our lives – because after all people like Putin have flesh, blood, and bone just like you and me and he has numerous predecessors who remind us we are all capable of the atrocities we are witnessing when we live Ego-Centrically.
So maybe those sandwich boards were right after all – but if we constantly re-calibrate by practicing God consciousness, we may save our world and our souls.
In the lovely retreat house of The Foundation of St. Katharine, near St. Katharine’s Docks, there is a gorgeous chapel with a large compass set in the marble of its floor. Around it there is a text of Saint Augustine:
WE DO NOT COME TO GOD BY NAVIGATION
BUT BY LOVE
Unless we love we shall not come to God except for Judgment.