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Starting over again

Liberation! When God called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, they escaped from slavery into freedom, from misery into the Promised Land. The Chosen People, despite their unworthiness, had a fresh chance to live in God’s love.

The experience of liberation is easy to imagine. Think of the dungeon gates opening or the pardoned prisoners released into the sunlight.

Think of a refugee, who finds a new home in a new land, among welcoming people. Think of prisoners of war at the end of an armed conflict, when they can go home to their families, put aside their weapons and make a fresh start to their lives. Think of the joy of being liberated and finding a fresh start.

The parable in today’s gospel speaks to us in a different way of the experience of liberation. Jesus sentences the tree to be cut down. He explains that the purpose of a vineyard is to produce good fruit and, since the fig tree in our story bore no fruit, it should be
removed.

But the man who looks after the vineyard pleads for another chance. God is like the man who tends the vineyard, the vinedresser. Just as the vinedresser wants to give the fig tree one more chance, God gives us yet another fresh start.

Just as the vinedresser seeks to help the tree by turning the soil and fertilising it, so God seeks to help us to bear fruit.

This is a real source of joy for us. So often we do not have to bear the full consequences of our sinfulness. This includes not only the wrongs we have done, but also our failures to do good, our failures to bear fruit.

So often we have another chance, a fresh start to create a world where God’s reign is manifest. Even though we have not deserved this, we are liberated and given a new chance.

A new chance fills us with hope. When we are given a new chance, we can find courage once again. Eyes which were dimmed with despair become bright again and shoulders which were bowed down become straight again. This, too, is a kind of joy.

Now we can reflect on the new chance which has been given to us to live fully as God wants us to live. What are the changes which we need to make? How can we respond to this opportunity to be fruitful?

Surely our psalm provides us with a model. Can we forgive others as God forgives us? Can we live justly as God is just? Can we be compassionate and merciful as God is compassionate and merciful? At least we have a chance to begin to lead the good life again.

May joy be yours as Lent continues. May you experience the joy of liberation and the hope-filled joy of a fresh start. May you experience the joy of bearing fruit, fruit that will last.

The Lord is indeed compassion and loving, slow to anger and rich in mercy.