Rembrandt, The Prodigal Son

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1 Gardener: Sir, leave [the fig tree] for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. (Gospel) Rembrandt, The Prodigal Son 3 rd Sunday in Lent, Cycle C March 3 rd, 2013

2 First Reading: Exodus 3:1-8, Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up. 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, Moses, Moses! And he said, Here I am. 5 Then he said, Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 6 He said further, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 13 But Moses said to God, If I come to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your ancestors has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is his name? what shall I say to them? 14 God said to Moses, I am who I am. He said further, Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you. 15 God also said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the Israelites, The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you : This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations. Responsive Psalm 103: Thanksgiving for God s Goodness Lector: 1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, All: bless his holy name. Lector: 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, All: and do not forget all his benefits Lector: 3 who forgives all your iniquity, All: who heals all your diseases, Lector: 4 who redeems your life from the Pit, All: who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Lector: 5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live All: so that your youth is renewed like the eagle s. Lector: 6 The Lord works vindication All: and justice for all who are oppressed. Lector: 7 He made known his ways to Moses, All: his acts to the people of Israel. Lector: 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, All: slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Lector: 9 He will not always accuse, All: nor will he keep his anger for ever. Lector: 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, All: nor repay us according to our iniquities. Lector: 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, All: so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;

3 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. 6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. Gospel Reading: Luke 13:1-9 13At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did. 6 Then he told this parable: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 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? 8 He replied, Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. Homily Life was harsh and cruel in ancient times and survival was very precarious. Most infants did not make it to adulthood, and reaching age 40 was a ripe old age. So this is the context in which the parable in today s Gospel should be considered. We in the modern age end to think that the parables about cutting down unproductive trees (translate: people) and throwing them into the fire (as some other versions of this story seem to recommend) as just awful. But a dead tree should still be conserved for making a fire for cooking or keeping warm. And Jesus is clearly saying that when disaster befalls people, it has nothing to do with having deserved to die more than others. We have seen this same concept in the Wisdom literature where we learn that the rain falls alike on the just and the unjust. But in all cases whether we have lived a dutiful, compliant life or we have made some unwise decisions -- we all need and are called to repentance the Greek word is metanoia meaning gaining knowledge or insight about ourselves and changing our minds and our direction. For the more dutiful one, perhaps what has been lost is a deeper love and willingness to take risks for the sake of others. The dutiful one is perhaps overly concerned about safety and security and maintaining control.

4 For the more unwise, perhaps there is the error of choosing for the moment with insufficient regard for the effects of one s decisions on others or on later requirements in life. We all can find ourselves somewhere on this continuum from overcontrolled to overly impulsive, and regardless, we are called to enlarge our perspective and change directions from time to time. Sin is an old-fashioned word which makes some people uncomfortable, but just remember that there is an I in the middle of the word, and this is all you need to know. Don t get lost in unnecessary guilt and denigration of yourself, but wake up to your need to be accountable and seek change and forgiveness. In our parable, the gardener asks for another year for the poor tree, so he will have opportunity to dig around its roots giving it air and space -- and to add manure to enrich the soil before cutting the plant down. Notice, too, that manure, a waste product, will bring new growth. We need to look at our own spiritual waste and see what new growth it will bring too. Metaphorically, the gardener may represent Jesus remember Mary Magdalene at the Tomb when a man appears whom she mistakes for the gardener? The gardener says that if these interventions of aeration and feeding don t work, then the landowner can cut the tree down notice that the gardener does no take on that task. Instead, he asks for lenience and mercy, and seeks to give the plant more air and space, to give it nurturance so that it can mature into a fruitful tree. So, too, we are given more time, time to try again when we are spiritually barren and unproductive. He will give us the extra attention we need. Even our mistakes (manure) will not go to waste! The story is similar to that of the Prodigal Son, a story that is depicted in our art today. Rembrandt so well captured the young man who wasted his life and his father s inheritance, then realizing that he had bottomed out, so he sought to return home. Remember that he was greeted joyfully, and the father asked for servants to kill the best calf and have a party, and to put a ring on his finger. You may also recall the dutiful older brother who was riled by the younger being treated like royalty. Yes, duty has its reward and the lesson is not to go out and waste one s life and then to act entitled and expect to achieve fulfillment with no effort. No, that is not the story here. He did go to the bottom, realizing that the pigs were eating better than he was. And he was truly repentant and asking to return and just to be treated as a hired hand. But the father is overjoyed, and sees him coming from a distance and runs out to greet him. The tree sometimes has to be trimmed and shaped, its dead branches removed. We must remove our dead wood or permit it to be removed. When properly pruned, it will grow more vigorously. We don t see a story of retribution and punishment here, but a realistic depiction of the necessary processes for growth. For some, it will take longer and it might take a little extra tenderness and nurturance or space to breathe. It might require being respectful and allowing a loved one to choose and make their own mistakes, but to be there for them afterward. It may well take dying to self undergoing the pruning of our egotism, our need to be right, our anger and

5 resentment, propensities for manipulation, sloth and laziness, irresponsibility, dishonesty, misusing others in any way, as well as sins of omission -- failing to love and failing to learn how to love and gladly receiving the discipline to become a fruitful servant. This is one of the steps along the path as we progress through Lent. So, too, we are taught to forgive seventy times seven which is certainly less than the times that we ourselves have fallen short. We see that God in his grace calls us to return to his path. Likewise, we must forgive ourselves as well as others, before we can be healthy plants. God of our forebears, you always beckon us to your arms. Never do you push us away. We are lands flowing with milk and honey. Chance upon chance you give us, grace upon grace. And then you gently stand by, awaiting the words, Here we are! Help us know your kindness and come running to you. Holy Spirit, you give us just our span of days, to stretch open our hearts. Let your fullness of grace come to life in our lives. Jesus, grower of souls, we are as barren as the fig tree.

6 You gave it time. Give us more time too. Make our roots moist with your presence. Pour your grace on us like water on parched land, until we bear fruit. Amen. Prayers only. Copyright 2013, Anne M. Osdieck. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce for personal or parish use.

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