Today’s Gospel story of the gardener’s plea to the landowner to give more time for the fig tree to bear fruit is unusual in that we don’t know what happened to the tree the next year. Did it or did it not bear fruit? So if not about the fruit, the parable appears to be pointing to something more fundamental and important.
There once was a remote monastery that thrived in years past. Its joy and life were renowned far and wide. But over the years it had lost its way and now drew few who wanted to join the community or visit. The abbot, sad and confused, went for a walk in the nearby woods and encountered an old, wise hermit. The hermit, sensing the abbot’s sadness, said to him, "The messiah is in your midst. Go find him."
The abbot returned to the monastery and called together the small remnant of the monks. He told them what the holy hermit said: "The messiah is one of us." Incredulous, they each looked at one another wondering who it could be. As the days, weeks and months passed, slowly a new joy returned to the monastery. The monks began to treat each other with care and their prayer found new life. Soon, more and more visitors found their way back to find a place full of peace and God’s presence. Some asked to be received into the community, saying they had been seeking the messiah and they found him in their midst.
In today’s Gospel, the gardener sensed there was fruit hidden in that tree; it just needed some pruning and nurturing. This is the truth about repentance to which Jesus calls us. God dwells within us even if buried at times by our own selfishness, doubt, fears or cynicism. The call to repent is more than just feeling bad about what we’ve done. To repent is to take on a new perspective, a new orientation, to see God at work in our world. Like the monks, we need to believe that the messiah is in our midst, is within us.
"The world is charged with the grandeur of God," is the opening line of Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ God’s Grandeur. To repent is not to run and hide in shame. To repent is to uncover our eyes that we might see that the messiah is in our midst, all around us and in us.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.