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A message from the Catholic Church Lenten Campaign – Third Week

Make God’s mercy known through charitable work

The theme for the third week of the Lent, Make God’s mercy known through charitable work, has been chosen in response to Pope Francis’ proclamation of The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

This Sunday’s gospel reading from St. Luke recounts the parable of the barren fig tree. The master wishes to cut it down, as for three years it has failed to bear fruit. However, the gardener intercedes, saying, “Sir, leave it for this year also and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilise it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9).

If we read the preceding verses, we see that Jesus had been asked whether the victims of two earlier tragedies in Galilee and Siloam were punished because of their sins. But he replies, “By no means!” but appeals to his listeners to repent lest they also perish (Luke 13:5).

Some biblical scholars suggest that the master in the parable is God the Father, while the gardener is Jesus. They say the three years allude to the time of his earthly ministry. So the theme of the parable can be understood as Jesus imploring God the Father to give people more time and another opportunity to repent.

Although there is not much evidence to support this, it is in line with the tone of St. Luke’s gospel, which consistently stresses the mercy of God. He recounts how Jesus prayed on the cross for those who crucified him, as well as the promise of paradise he made to the repentant thief hanging on the cross next to him.

However, it is clear that the parable testifies to God’s attributes of mercy and justice.

Just as the fig tree was expected to have fruit within three years, God expects humankind to bear fruit. As Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8), otherwise you may suffer the same fate as the fig tree. Nonetheless, the mercy of God is overwhelming.

Though the fig tree did nothing within the three-year period, it was given an extra year’s grace, during which it received intensive care, an image that reflects the adequate grace and ample opportunity afforded for repentance.

As St. Paul wrote, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Pope Francis explains in the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, “Mercy is not opposed to justice, but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert and believe” (The Face of Mercy—Misericordiae Vultus §21).

“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). We can ask ourselves during this Lent, what fruit can we bear to show God’s mercy? The answer can be found in this week’s theme, Make God’s mercy known through charitable work and the pope’s plea for “corporal and spiritual works of mercy” (ibid §15).

A corporal work of mercy is a visible and material act of charity. Hong Kong is a relatively affluent society and most people, if they are willing, are capable of helping the needy, either in their neighbourhood or overseas. But Jesus urges us to learn from the example of the poor widow in the gospel—doing all from the bottom of our hearts.

On the other hand, Hong Kong society is suffering even more from an illness of the heart. Our community is portrayed as being torn apart, full of suspicion and anxiety, plagued by disputes and quarrels.

As Christians, let this be our spiritual work of mercy: that weallow ourselves to be channels of God’s peace as inspired by the Beatitudes and the Prayer of St Francis, and so be a healing balm to an ailing society.


Lenten Campaign Organising Committee, 2016